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JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 




JESUS 

and the Disinherited 


BY HOWARD THURMAN 



ABINGDON-COKESBURY PRESS 

NEV YORK NASHTO-I-E 



JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 


COPYRIGHT, MCM.XLIX 
BY PIERCE & SMITH 


AH rights in this book are reserved._ No part of the 
text may be reproduced in any form without written per* 
mission of the publishers, except brief quotations used 
in coaneetion with reviews in magazines or newspapers. 

B 



SET ' XTF, mKTISD, ANB , BOUND BY THE, 
3PA1TKEHON PBESS, AT KASBVILLB, 
TENNESSEE^ 'UNITED STATES OE AMERICA 



To 

My Beloved Daughters 
OLIVE and ANNE 


and to the future of their generation 
in whom the struggles of the 
past will find fulfillment 




Preface 


The significance of the religion of Jesus to people who 
stand with tlieir backs against the wall has always seemed 
to me to be crucial. It is one emphasis which has been 
lacking— except where it has been a part of a very un- 
fortunate corruption of the missionary impulse, which is, 
in a sense, the very heartbeat of the Christian religion. My 
interest in the problem has been and continues to be both 
personal and professional. This is the question wiiich in- 
dividuals and groups who live in our land always under the 
threat of profound social and psychological displacement 
face: Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal 
radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of dis- 
crimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and 
national origin? Is this impotency due to a betrayal of the 
genius of the religion, or is it due to a basic weakness in the 
religion itself? The question is searching, for the dramatic 
demonstration of the impotency of Cliristianity in dealing 

7 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

with the issue is underscored fay its apparent inafaility to 
cope u'ith it "i\'irhin its owti fellowship. 

I do not pretend that I have found an answer in the 
pages that folloAv; but I am deeply convinced that in the 
general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer with- 
out which there can be little hope that men may find in 
Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel. 

It was in 1935, at tlie annual convocation on preaching 
at the School of Theology of Boston University, that I first 
gave formal shape to the basic idea in this study. Under the 
title “Good News for the Disinherited,” it was published as 
an article in Religion in Life, Summer, 1935. Subsequently 
the same ideas were developed in a prose poem on Jesus, 
“The Great Incarnate Words,” which appeared in the 
magazine Motive in January, 1944. Later this prose poem 
xvas published as a part of a volume of poetic meditations 
under the title The Greatest of These. The comprehensive 
study of which this book is the full development was pre- 
sented as the Mary L. Smith Memorial Lectures at Samuel 
Huston College, Austin, Texas, in April, 1948. 

Appreciation is due and gladly acknowledged to Miss 
Grace E. IVIarrett and Miss Julia T. Lee for their patient 
checking of the manuscript for clarity and accuracy of 
expression; to Mrs. Aubrey Burns and Mrs. Virginia 
Scardigii for typing and retyping the manuscript; and to 
The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples for the 
impetus. 


Howard Thurman 


Contents 

L JESUS-AN INTERPRETATION . . . .11 


IL FEAR 36 

III. DECEPTION . 58 

IV. HATE . . ... . . . . . ... . 74 

. y. LOVE 89 

EPILOGUE 110 


9 



CHAPTER ONE 


Jesus 

an Interpretation 


To SOME God and Jesus may appeal in a way other than 
to us: some may come to faith in God and to love, 
without a conscious attachment to Jesus. Both Nature 
and good men besides Jesus may lead us to God. They 
who seek God with all their hearts must, however, some 
day on their way meet Jesus/ 

Many and varied are the interpretations dealing with 
the teachings and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But few of 
these interpretations deal with what the teachings and the 
life of Jesus have to say to those who stand, at a moment in 
human history, with their backs against the wall 
To those who need profound succor and strength to 
enable them to live in the present with dignity and crea- 
tivity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail. 
The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and 
vague. Too often the price exacted by society for security 

^Heinrich Weinel and Alban G. Widgeiy, Jesus in the Nineteenth 
Century and After, p. 405. 

u 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

and respectability is that the Christian movement in its 
formal expression must be on the side of the strong against 
the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for 
it reveals to what extent a religion that was bom of a peo- 
ple acquainted wdth persecution and suffering has become 
the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very 
position in modem life has too often been secured by a 
ruthless use of power applied to W’eak and defenseless 
peoples. 

It is not a singular thing to hear a sermon that defines 
wffat should be the attitude of the Christian toward people 
who are less fortunate than himself. Again and again our 
missionary appeal is on the basis of the Christian respon- 
sibility to the needy, the ignorant, and the so-called back- 
ward peoples of the earth. There is a certain grandeur and 
nobility in administering to another’s need out of one’s 
fullness and plenty. One could be selfish, using his pos- 
sessions— material or spiritual— for strictly private or per- 
sonal ends. It is certainly to the glory of Christianity that it 
has been most insistent on the point of responsibility to 
others whose only claim upon one is the height and depth 
of their need. This impulse at the heart of Christianity is 
the human 'will to share vf'idi others what one has found 
meaningful to oneself elevated to the height of a moral 
imperative. But there is a lurking danger in this very em- 
phasis. It is exceedingly difficult to hold oneself free from 
a certain contempt for those whose predicament makes 
moral appeal for defense and succor. It is the sin of pride 
and arrogance that has tended to vitiate the missionary im- 

12 



JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

pulse and to make of it an instrument of self-righteousness 
on the one hand and racial superiority on the other. 

That is one reason why, again and again, there is no basic 
relationship between the simple practice of brotherhood in 
the commonplace relations of life and the ethical preten- 
sions of our faith. It has long been a matter of serious 
moment that for decades we have studied the various peo- 
ples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as 
objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without be- 
ing at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as hu- 
man beings. I say this without rancor, because it is not an 
issue in which vicious human beings are involved. But it is 
one of the subtle perils of a religion which calls attention— 
to the point of overemphasis, sometimes— to one’s obliga- 
tion to administer to human need. 

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of 
times that I have heard a sermon on the meaning of religion, 
of Christianity, to the man who stands with his back against 
the wall. It is urgent that my meaning be crystal clear. The 
masses of men live with their backs constantly against the 
wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. 
What does our religion say to them? The issue is not what 
it counsels them to do for others whose need may be 
greater, but what religion offers to meet their own needs. 
The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the 
most important religious quest of modem life. 

In the fall of 1935 I was serving as chairman of a delega- 
tion sent on a pilgrimage of friendship from the students of 
America to the students of India, Burma, and Ceylon. It 

13 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

was at a meeting in Ceylon that the whole crucial issue was 
pointed up to me in a way that I can never forget. At the 
close of a talk before the Law College, University of 
Colombo, on civil disabilities under states’ rights in the 
United States, I was invited by the principal to have coffee. 

We drank our coffee in silence. After the service had 
been removed, he said to me, “What are you doing over 
here? I know what the newspapers say about a pilgrimage 
of friendship and the rest, but that is not my question. 
What are you doing over here.^ This is what I mean. 

“More than three hundred years ago your forefathers 
were taken from the western coast of Africa as slaves. The 
people who dealt in the slave traffic were Christians. One 
of your famous Christian hymn writers. Sir John Newton, 
made his money from the sale of slaves to the New World. 
He is the man who wrote ‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus 
Sounds’ and ‘Amazing Grace’— there may be others, but 
these are the only ones I know. The name of one of the 
famous British slave vessels was ‘Jesus.’ 

“The men who bought the slaves were Christians. Chris- 
tian ministers, quoting the Christian apostle Paul, gave the 
sanction of religion to the system of slavery. Some seventy 
years or more ago you were freed by a man who was not a 
professing Christian, but was rather the spearhead of cer- 
tain political, social, and economic forces, the significance 
of which he himself did not understand. During all the 
period since then you have lived in a Christian nation in 
which you are segregated, lynched, and burned. Even in 
the church, I understand, there is segregation. One of my 

14 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

students who went to your country sent me a clipping 
telling about a Christian church in which the regular Sun- 
day worship was interrupted so that many could join a 
mob against one of your fellows. When he had been caught 
and done to death, they came back to resume their worship 
of their Christian God. 

“I am a Hindu. I do not understand. Here you are in my 
country, standing deep within the Christian faith and tra- 
dition. I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think 
you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am 
wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense 
of your position.” 

Our subsequent conversation lasted for more than five 
hours. The clue to my own discussion with this probing, 
honest, sympathetic Hindu is found in my interpretation 
of the meaning of the religion of Jesus. It is a privilege, 
after so long a time, to set down what seems to me to be an 
essentially creative and prognostic interpretation of Jesus 
as religious subject rather than religious object. It is neces- 
sary to examine the religion of Jesus against the background 
of his own age and people, and to inquire into the content of 
his teaching with reference to the disinherited and the 
underprivileged. 

We begin with the simple historical fact that Jesus was a 
Jew. The miracle of the Jewish people is almost as breath- 
taking as the miracle of Jesus. Is there something unique, 
some special increment of vitality in the womb of the peo- 
ple out of whose loins he came, that made of him a logical 
flowering of a long development of racial experience, ethi- 

15 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

ca! in quality and Godlike in tone? It is impossible for 
Jesus to be understood outside of the sense of community 
which Israel held with God. This does not take anything 
away from him; rather does it heighten the challenge 
which his life presents, for such reflection reveals him as the 
product of the constant working of the creative mind of 
God upon the life, thought, and character of a race of men. 
Here is one who was so conditioned and organized within 
himself that he became a perfect instrument for the embodi- 
ment of a set of ideals— ideals of such dramatic potency that 
they were capable of changing the calendar, rechanneling 
the thought of the world, and placing a new sense of the 
rhythm of life in a wear)% nen-'e-snapped civilization. 

Flow different might have been the story of the last 
two thousand years on this planet grown old from suffer- 
ing if the link between Jesus and Israel had never been 
severed! What might have happened if Jesus, so perfect a 
flower from the brooding spirit of God in the soul of Is- 
rael, had been permitted to remain where his roots would 
have been fed by the distilled elements accumulated from 
Israel’s wrestling with God! The thought is staggering. The 
Christian Church has tended to overlook its Judaic origins, 
but the fact is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew of Palestine 
when he went about his Father’s business, announcing the 
acceptable year of the Lord. 

Of course it may be argued that the fact that Jesus was 
a Jew is merely coincidental, that God could have ex- 
pressed himself as easily and effectively in a Roman. True, 

16 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

but the fact is he did not. And it is with that fact that we 
must deal. 

The second important fact for our consideration is that 
Jesus was a poor Jew. There is recorded in Luke the ac- 
count of the dedication of Jesus at the temple: “And when 
the days of her purification according to the law of Moses 
were accomplished, they brought him ... to the Lord; 
(as it is WTitten in the law of the Lord, Every male that 
openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and 
to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the 
law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or tu*o young 
pigeons.” When we examine the regulation m Leviticus, 
an interesting fact is revealed: “And when the days of her 

purifying are fulfilled, for a son, she shall bring a lamb 

of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or 
a turtledove, for a sin offering. . . . And if she be not able to 
bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young 
pigeons; the one for a burnt offering and the other for a 
sin offering.” It is clear from the text that the mother of 
Jesus was one whose means w'ere not sufiicient for a lamb, 
and who was compelled, therefore, to use doves or young 
pigeons. 

The economic predicament with which he was iden- 
tified in birth placed him initially with the great mass of 
men on the earth. The masses of the people are poor. If we 
dare take the position that in Jesus there was at work some 
radical destiny, it would be safe to say that in his poverty 
he was more truly Son of man than he would have been if 
the incident of family or birth had made him a rich son of 

17 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

Israel. It is not a point to be labored, for again and again 
men have transcended circumstance of birth and training; 
but it is an observation not without merit. 

The third fact is that Jesus was a member of a minority 
group in the midst of a larger dominant and controlling 
group. In 63 b.c. Palestine fell into the hands of the Romans. 
After this date the gruesome details of loss of status were 
etched, line by line, in the sensitive soul of Israel, drama- 
tized ever by an increasing desecration of the Holy Land. 
To be sure, there was Herod, an Israelite, who ruled from 
37 to 4 B.C.; but in some ways he was completely apostate. 
Taxes of all kinds increased, and out of these funds, ex- 
tracted from the vitals of the people, temples in honor of 
Emperor Augustus were buUt within the boundaries of the 
holy soil. It was a sad and desolate time for the people. 
Herod became the symbol of shame and humiliation for ail 
of Israel. 

In Galilee a certain revolutionary, whose name was Judas, 
laid siege to the armory at Sepphoris and, with weapons 
taken there, tried to re-estabhsh the political glory of Is- 
rael. How terrible a moment! The whole city of Sepphoris 
was regarded as a hostage, and Roman soldiers, aided by 
the warriors of King Aretas of Arabia, reduced the place to 
whited ash. In time the city was rebuilt— and perhaps Jesus 
was one of the carpenters employed from Nazareth, which 
was a neighboring village. 

It is utterly fantastic to assume that Jesus grew to man- 
hood untouched by the surging currents of the common 
life that made up the climate of Palestine. Not only must he 

18 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

have been aware of them; that he was affected by them is a 
most natural observation. A word of caution is urgent at 
this point. To place Jesus against the background of his 
time is by no means sufficient to e.x:pi3in him. Who can ex- 
plain a spiritual genius— or any kind of genius, for that 
matter.^ The historical setting in wliich Jesus grew up, the 
psychological mood and temper of the age and of the 
House of Israel, the economic and social predicament of 
Jesus’ family— all these are important. But they in themselves 
are unable to tell us precisely the thing that we most want to 
know: Why does he differ from many others in the same 
setting? Any explanation of Jesus in terms of psychology, 
politics, economics, religion, or the like must inevitably 
explain his contemporaries as well. It may tell why Jesus 
was a particular kind of Jew, but not why some other 
Jews were not Jesus. And that is, after all, the most im- 
portant question, since the thing which makes him most 
significant is not the way in which he resembled his fellows 
but the way in which he differed from all the rest of them. 
Jesus inherited the same traits as countless other Jews of his 
time; he grew up in the same society; and yet he was Jesus, 
and the others were not. Uniqueness always escapes us as 
we undertake an analysis of character. 

On the other hand, these considerations should not blind 
us to the significance of the environmental factors and the 
social and religious heritage of Jesus in determining the 
revolutionary character of some of his insights. One of the 
clearest and simplest statements of the issues here raised, 
and their bearing upon the character and teaching of Jesus, 

19 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

is found in Vladimir Simkhovitch’s Toward the Under- 
standing of Jesus. I am using his essay as the basis for our 
discussion of the problem, but the applications are mine. 
Simkhovitch says: 

In the year 6 Judea was annexed to Syria; in the year 70 
Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed. Between these two 
dates Jesus preached and was crucified on Golgotha. During 
all that time the life of the little nation was a terrific drama; 
its patriotic emotions were aroused to the highest pitch and 
then still more inflamed by the identification of national politics 
with a national religion. Is it reasonable to assume that what was 
going on before Jesus’ eyes was a closed book, that the ago- 
nizing problems of his people were a matter of indifference to 
him, that he had given them no consideration, that he was not 
taking a definite attitude towards the great and all-absorbing 
problem of the very people whom he taught? ^ 

There is one overmastering problem that the socially and 
politically disinherited always face: Under what terras is 
survival possible? In the case of the Jewish people in the 
Greco-Roman world the problem was even more acute 
than under ordinary circumstances, because it had to do not 
only with physical survival in terms of life and limb but 
also with the actual survival of a culture and a faith. Juda- 
ism was a culture, a civilization, and a religion— a total 
world view in which there was no provision for any form 
of thoroughgoing dualism. The crucial problem of Judaism 
was to exist as an isolated, autonomous, cultural, religious, 
and political unit in the midst of the hostile Hellenic world. 

“Pp. 10-11. Copyright 1921, 19J7, 1947 by The Macmillan Co. and used 
■with their permission. 


20 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

If there had been sharp lines distinguishing the culture 
from the religion, or the religion from political autonomy, 
a compromise could have been worked out. Because the 
Jews thought that a basic compromise was possible, they 
sought political annexation to Syria which would bring 
them under Roman rule directly and thereby guarantee 
them, within the framework of Roman policy, religious and 
cultural autonomy. But this merely aggravated the already 
tense nationalistic feeling and made a direct, all-out attack 
against Roman authority inevitable. 

In the midst of this psychological climate Jesus began 
his teaching and his ministry. His words were directed to 
the House of Israel, a minority within the Greco-Roman 
world, smarting under the loss of status, freedom, and 
autonomy, haunted by the dream of the restoration of a 
lost glory and a former greatness. His message focused on 
the urgency of a radical change in the inner attitude of 
the people. He recognized fully that out of the heart are 
the issues of life and that no external force, however great 
and overwhelming, can at long last destroy a people if it 
does not first win the victory of the spirit against them. 
“To revile because one has been reviled— this is the real 
evil because it is the evil of the soul itself.” Jesus saw this 
with almighty clarity. Again and again he came back to the 
inner life of the individual. With increasing insight and 
startling accuracy he placed his finger on the “inward cen- 
ter” as the crucial arena where the issues would determine 
the destiny of his people. 

When I was a seminary student, I attended one of the 

21 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

great quadrennial conventions of the Student Volunteer 
Movement. One afternoon some seven hundred of us had a 
special group meeting, at which a Korean girl was asked to 
talk to us about her impression of American education. It 
was an occasion to be remembered. The Korean student 
was Ytry personable and somewhat diminutive. She came 
to the edge of the platform and, with what seemed to be 
obvious emotional strain, she said, “You have asked me to 
talk with you about my impression of American education. 
But there is only one thing that a Korean has any right to 
talk about, and that is freedom from Japan.” For about 
twenty minutes she made an impassioned plea for the free- 
dom of her people, ending her speech with this sentence: 
“If you see a little American boy and you ask him what he 
wants, he says, ‘I want a penny to put in my bank or to buy 
a whistle or a piece of candy.’ But if you see a little Korean 
boy and you ask him what he wants, he says, ‘I want free- 
dom from Japan.’ ” 

It was this kind of atmosphere that characterized the life 
of the Jewish community when Jesus was a youth in Pales- 
tine. The urgent question was what must be the attitude 
toward Rome. Was any attitude possible that would be 
morally tolerable and at the same time preserve a basic self- 
esteem— without which life could not possibly have any 
meaning? The question was not academic. It was the most 
crucial of questions. In essence, Rome was the enemy; 
Rome symbolized total frustration; Rome was the great 
barrier to peace of mind. And Rome was everywhere. No 
Jewish person of the period could deal with the question of 

22 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

his practical life, his vocation, his place in society, until 
first he had settled deep within himself this critical issue. 

This is the position of the disinherited in every age. What 
must be the attitude toward the rulers, the controllers of 
political, social, and economic life? This is the question 
of the Negro in American life. Until he has faced and 
settled that question, he cannot inform his environment 
with reference to his own life, whatever may be his prepara- 
tion or his pretensions. 

In the main, there were two alternatives faced by the 
Jewish minority of which Jesus was a part. Simply stated, 
these were to resist or not to resist. But each of these alter- 
natives has within it secondary alternatives. 

Under the general plan of nonresistance one may take the 
position of imitation. The aim of such an attitude is to as- 
similate the culture and the social behavior-pattern of the 
dominant group. It is the profound capitulation to the pow- 
erful, because it means the yielding of oneself to that which, 
deep within, one recognizes as being unworthy. It makes for 
a strategic loss of self-respect. The aim is to reduce all outer 
or external signs of difference to zero, so that there shall be 
no ostensible cause for active violence or opposition. Under 
some circumstances it may involve a repudiation of one’s 
heritage, one’s customs, one’s faith. Accurate imitation until 
the fagade of complete assimilation is securely placed and 
the antagonism of difference dissolved— such is the function 
of this secondary alternative within the broader alternative 
of nonresistance. Herod was an excellent example of this 
solution. 


23 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

To some extent this was also the attitude of the Sad- 
ducees. They represented the “upper” class. From their 
number came the high priests, and most of the economic 
security derived from contemporary worship in the temple 
was their monopoly. They did not represent the masses of 
the people. Any disturbance of the established order meant 
upsetting their position. They loved Israel, but they seem 
to have loved security more. They made their public peace 
with Rome and went on about the business of living. 
They were astute enough to see that their own position 
could be perpetuated if they stood firmly against all revo- 
lutionaries and radicals. Such persons would only stir the 
people to resist the inevitable, and in the end everything 
would be lost. Their tragedy was in the fact that they 
idealized the position of the Roman in the world and suf- 
fered the moral fate of the Romans by becoming like them. 
They saw only two roads open before them— become like 
the Romans or be destroyed by the Romans. They chose 
the former. 

The other alternative in the nonresistance pattern is to 
reduce contact with the enemy to a minimum. It is the atti- 
tude of cultural isolation in the midst of a rejected culture. 
Cunning the mood may be— one of bitterness and hatred, 
but also one of deep, calculating fear. To take up active 
resistance would be foolhardy, for a thousand reasons. The 
only way out is to keep one’s resentment under rigid control 
and censorship. 

The issue raised by this attitude is always present. The 
opposition to those who work for social change does not 

24 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

come only from those who are the guarantors of the stams 
quo. Again and again it has been demonstrated that the lines 
are held by those whose hold on security is sure only as 
long as the status quo remains intact. The reasons for this 
are not far to seek. If a man is convinced that he is safe 
only as long as he uses his power to giv'e others a sense of 
insecurity, then the measure of their security is in his 
hands. If security or insecurity is at the mercy of a single 
individual or group, then control of behavior becomes 
routine. All imperialism functions in this way. Subject peo- 
ples are held under control by this device. 

One of the most striking scenes in the movie Ben Hur 
was that in which a Roman legion marches by while hun- 
dreds of people stand silently on the roadside. As the last 
soldier passes, a very dignified, self-possessed Jewish gen- 
tleman, with folded arms and eyes smoldering with the 
utmost contempt, without the slightest shift of his facial 
muscles spits at the heel of the receding legionary— a con- 
summate touch. Such— in part, at least— was the attitude of 
the Pharisee. No active resistance against Rome— only a 
terrible contempt. Obviously such an attitude is a powder 
keg. One nameless incident may cause to burst into flame 
the whole gamut of smoldering passion, leaving nothing in 
its wake but charred corpses, mute reminders of the tragedy 
of life. Jesus saw this and understood it clearly. 

The odier major alternative is resistance. It may be argued 
that even nonresistance is a form of resistance, for it may be 
regarded as an appositive dimension of resistance. Resist- 
ance may be overt action, or it may be merely mental and 

25 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

moral attitudes. For the purposes of our discussion resist- 
ance is defined as the physical, overt expression of an inner 
attitude. Resistance in this sense finds its most dramatic 
manifestation in force of arms. 

Armed resistance is apt to be a tragic last resort in the 
life of the disinherited. Armed resistance has an appeal be- 
cause it provides a form of expression, of activity, that re- 
leases tension and frees the oppressed from a disintegrating 
sense of complete impotency and helplessness. “Why can’t 
we do something.^ Something must be done!” is the re- 
curring cry. By “something” is meant action, direct action, 
as over against words, subtleties, threats, and innuendoes. 
It is better to die fighting for freedom than to rot away in 
one’s chains, the argument runs. 

Before I’d be a slave 
I’d be buried in my grave, 

And go home to my God 
And be free! 

The longer the mood is contemplated, the more insistent 
the appeal. It is a form of fanaticism, to be sure, but that 
may not be a vote against it. In all action there is operative 
a fringe of irrationality. Once the mood is thoroughly es- 
tablished, any council of caution is interpreted as either 
compromise or cowardice. The fact that the ruler has avail- 
able to him the power of the state and complete access to 
all arms is scarcely considered. Out of the deeps of the 
heart there swells a great and awful assurance that because 
. 26 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

the cause is just, it cannot fail. Any failure is regarded as 
temporary and, to the devoted, as a testing of character. 

This was the attitude of the Zealots of Jesus’ day. There 
was added appeal in their position because it called forth 
from the enemy organized determination and power. It is 
never to be forgotten that one of the ways by which men 
measure their own significance is to be found in the amount 
of power and energy other men must use in order to crush 
them or hold them back. This is at least one explanation of 
the fact that even a weak and apparently inconsequential 
movement becomes formidable under the pressure of great 
persecution. The persecution becomes a vote of confidence, 
which becomes, in turn, a source of inspiration, power, and 
validation. The Zealots knew this. Jesus knew this. It is a 
matter of more than passing significance that he had a 
Zealot among his little band of followers, indeed among the 
twelve chosen ones. 

In the face of these alternatives Jesus came forth with 
still another. On this point Simkhovitch makes a profound 
contribution to the understanding of the psychology of 
Jesus. He reminds us that Jesus expressed his alternative in 
a “brief formula— The Kingdom of Heaven is in us.” He 
states further: 

Jesus had to resent deeply the loss of Jewish national in- 
dependence and the aggression of Rome. . . . Natural humilia- 
tion was hurting and burning. The balm for that burning 
humiliation was humility. For humility cannot be humiliated. 
. . . Thus he asked his people to learn from him, “For I am 

27 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

meek and loAvly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ^ 

It was but natural that such a position would be deeply 
resented by many of his fellows, who were suffering even 
as he was. To them it was a complete betrayal to the enemy. 
It was to them a counsel of acquiescence, if not of despair, 
full to overflowing with a kind of groveling and stark cow- 
ardice. Besides, it seemed like self-deception, like whistling 
in the dark. Ail of this would have been quite true if Jesus 
had stopped there. He did not. He recognized with au- 
thentic realism that anyone who permits another to deter- 
mine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the 
other the keys to his destiny. If a man knows precisely what 
he can do to you or what epithet he can hurl against you in 
order to make you lose your temper, your equilibrium, then 
he can always keep you under subjection. It is a man’s reac- 
tion to things that determines their ability to exercise power 
over him. It seems clear that Jesus understood the anatomy 
of the relationship between his people and the Romans, and 
he interpreted that relationship against the background of 
the profoundest ethical insight of his own religious faith as 
he had found it in the heart of the prophets of Israel. 

The solution which Jesus found for himself and for 
Israel, as they faced the hostility of the Greco-Roman 
world, becomes the word and the work of redemption for 
all the cast-down people in every generation and in every 

* Toward the Understanding of Jesus, pp. 60-61. Copyright 1921, 1937, 
1947 by The MacnuUan Co. and used with their permission. 

28 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

age. I mean this quite literally. I do not ignore the theo- 
logical and metaphysical interpretation of the Christian 
doctrine of salvation. But the underprivileged evert'where 
have long since abandoned any hope that this type of salva- 
tion deals with the crucial issues by which their days are 
turned into despair without consolation. The basic fact is 
that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish 
teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for 
the oppressed. That it became, through the inten-ening 
years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used 
sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt 
us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of 
Jesus. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” 
Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh 
courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypoc- 
risy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the 
trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them. 

I belong to a generation that finds very little that is 
meaningful or intelligent in the teachings of the Church 
concerning Jesus Christ. It is a generation largely in revolt 
because of the general impression that Christianity is essen- 
tially an other-worldly religion, having as its motto: “Take 
all the world, but give me Jesus.” The desperate opposition 
to Christianity rests in the fact that it seems, in the last 
analysis, to be a betrayal of the Negro into the hands of his 
enemies by focusing his attention upon heaven, forgiveness, 
love, and the like. It is true that this emphasis is gemiane 
to the religion of Jesus, but it has to be put into a context 
that will show its strength and vitality rather than its 

29 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

weakness and failure. For years it has been a part of my 
own quest so to understand the religion of Jesus that in- 
terest in his way of life could be developed and sustained 
by intelligent men and women who were at the same time 
deeply victimized by the Christian Church’s betrayal of his 
faith. 

During much of my boyhood I was cared for by my 
grandmother, who was bom a slave and lived until the 
Civil W ar on a plantation near Madison, Florida. My regu- 
lar chore was to do all of the reading for my grandmother— 
she could neither read nor write. Two or three times a 
week I read the Bible aloud to her. I was deeply impressed 
by the fact that she was most particular about the choice 
of Scripture. For instance, I might read many of the more 
devotional Psalms, some of Isaiah, the Gospels again and 
again. But the Pauline epistles, never— except, at long in- 
tervals, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. My 
curiosity knew no bounds, but we did not question her 
about anything. 

When I was older and was half through college, 1 
chanced to be spending a few days at home near the end of 
summer vacation. With a feeling of great temerity I asked 
her one day why it was that she would not let me read any 
of the Pauline letters. What she told me I shall never forget. 
“During the days of slavery,” she said, “the master’s min- 
ister would occasionally hold services for the slaves. Old 
man McGhee was so mean that he would not let a Neo-ro 
minister preach to his slaves. Always the white minister 
used as his text something from Paul. At least three or four 

30 


JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

times a year he used as a text: ‘Slaves, be obedient to them 
that are your masters . . . , as unto Christ.’ Then he would 
go on to show how it was God’s will that we were slaves 
and how, if we were good and happy slaves, God would 
bless us. I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read 
and if freedom ever came, I would not read that part of the 
Bible.” 

Since that fateful day on the front porch in Florida I 
have been working on the problem her words presented. A 
part of the fruits of that search throw an important light 
upon the issues with which I am dealing. It cannot be denied 
that too often the weight of the Christian movement has 
been on the side of the strong and the powerful and against 
the weak and oppressed— this, despite the gospel. A part of 
the responsibility seems to me to rest upon a peculiar twist 
in the psychology of Paul, whose wide and universal con- 
cern certainly included all men, bond and free. 

Let us examine the facts. The apostle Paul was a Jew. He 
was the first great creative interpreter of Christianity. His 
letters are older than the Gospels themselves. It seems that 
because he was not one of the original disciples, he was 
never quite accepted by them as one able to speak with 
authority concerning the Master. This fact hung vet}" 
heavily upon the soul of the apostle. He did not ever belong, 
quite. One of the disciples could always say, “But of course 
you do not quite understand, because, you see, you were 
not there when . . 

But the fact remains: Paul was a Jew, even as Jesus was a 
Jew. By blood, training, background, and religion he be- 

31 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

longed to the Jewish minority, about whom we have been 
speaking. But unlike them, for the most part, he was a free 
Jew; he was a citizen of Rome. A desert and a sea were 
placed beween his status in the empire and that of his 
fellow Jews. A very searching dilemma was created by this 
fact. On the one hand, he belonged to the privileged class. 
He had the freedom of the empire at his disposal. There 
were certain citizenship rights which he could claim despite 
his heritage, faith, and religion. Should he deny himself 
merely because he was more fortunate than his fellows? To 
what extent could he accept his rights wdthout feeling a 
deep sense of guilt and betrayal? He w'as of a minority but 
with majority privileges. If a Roman soldier in some prison 
in Asia Minor was taking advantage of him, he could make 
an appeal directly to Caesar. There was always available to 
him a protection guaranteed by the state and respected by 
the minions of the state. It was hke a magic formula always 
available in emergencies. It is to the credit of the amazing 
power of Jesus Christ over the life of Paul that there is only 
one recorded instance in which he used his privilege. 

It is quite understandable that his sense of security would 
influence certain aspects of his philosophy of history. 
Naturally he would have a regard for the state, for the civil 
magistrate, unlike that of his fellows, who regarded them 
as the formal expression of legitimatized intolerance. The 
stability of Paul’s position in the state was guaranteed by 
the integrity of the state. One is not surprised, then, to hear 
him tell slaves to obey their masters like Christ, and say all 
government is ordained of God. (It is not to meet the 

32 



JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

argument to say that in a sense everjThing that is, is per- 
mitted of God, or that government and rulers are sustained 
by God as a concession to the frailty of man.) It would be 
grossly misleading and inaccurate to say that there are not 
to be found in the Pauline letters utterances of a deeply 
different quality— utterances which reveal how his con- 
ception transcended all barriers of race and class and condi- 
tion. But this other side is there, always available to tho,se 
who wish to use the weight of the Christian message to 
oppress and humiliate their fellows. The point is that this 
aspect of Paul’s teaching is understandable against the back- 
ground of his Roman citizenship. It influenced his philos- 
ophy of history and resulted in a major frustration that has 
borne bitter fruit in the history of the movement which 
he, Paul, did so much to project on the conscience of the 
human race. 

Now Jesus was not a Roman citizen. He was not pro- 
tected by the normal guarantees of citizenship— that quiet 
sense of security which comes from knowing that you be- 
long and the general climate of confidence which it inspires. 
If a Roman soldier pushed Jesus into a ditch, he could not 
appeal to Caesar; he would be just another Jew in the ditch. 
Standing always beyond the reach of citizen security, he 
was perpetually exposed to all the “arrows of outrageous 
fortune,” and there was only a gratuitous refuge— if any— 
within the state. What stark insecurity! What a breeder of 
complete civil aiid moral nihilism and psychic anarchy! 
Unless one actually lives day by day without a sense of 

33 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

security, he cannot understand what worlds separated Jesus 
from Paul at this point. 

The striking similarity between the social position of 
Jesus in Palestine and that of the vast majority of American 
Negroes is obvious to anyone who tarries long over the 
facts. We are dealing here with conditions that produce 
essentially the same psychology. There is meant no further 
comparison. It is the similarity of a social climate at the 
point of a denial of full citizenship which creates the prob- 
lem for creative survival. For the most part, Negroes assume 
that there are no basic citizenship rights, no fundamental 
protection, guaranteed to them by the state, because their 
status as citizens has never been clearly defined. There has 
been for them little protection from the dominant con- 
trollers of society and even less protection from the un- 
restrained elements within their own group. 

The result has been a tendency to be their own pro- 
tectors, to bulwark themselves against careless and deliberate 
aggression. The Negro has felt, with some justification, that 
the peace officer of the community provides no defense 
against the offending or offensive white man; and for an 
entirely different set of reasons the peace officer gives no 
protection against the offending Negro. Thus the Negro 
feels that he must be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to 
protect his own life and take the consequence therefor. 
Such a predicament has made it natural for some of them 
to use weapons as a defense and to have recourse to pre- 
meditated or precipitate violence. 

Living in a climate of deep insecurity, Jesus, faced with 

34 



JESUS— AN INTERPRETATION 

SO narrow a margin of civil guarantees, had to find some 
other basis upon which to establish a sense of well-being. 
He knew that the goals of religion as he understood them 
could never be worked out within the thcn-esrai)Iis!-ied 
order. Deep from within that order he projected a dream, 
the logic of which would give to all the needful sccurit)". 
There would be room for all, and no man would be a threat 
to his brother. “The kingdom of God is within.” “The 
Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed 
me to preach the gospel to the poor.” 

The basic principles of his way of life cur straight 
through to the despair of his fellows and found it ground- 
less. By inference he says, “You must abandon your fear 
of each other and fear only God. You must not indulge in 
any deception and dishonesty, even to save your lives. Your 
words must be Yea— Nay; anything else is evil. Hatred is 
destructive to hated and hater alike. Love your enemy, 
that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” 


CHAPTER TWO 


Fear 

Fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the 
footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited. 
There is nothing new or recent about fear— it is doubtless 
as old as the life of man on the planet. Fears are of many 
kinds— fear of objects, fear of people, fear of the future, 
fear of nature, fear of the unknown, fear of old age, fear 
of disease, and fear of life itself. Then there is fear which 
has to do with aspects of experience and detailed states of 
mind. Our homes, institutions, prisons, churches, are 
crowded with people who are hounded by day and har- 
rowed by night because of some fear that lurks ready to 
spring into action as soon as one is alone, or as soon as the 
lights go out, or as soon as one’s social defenses are tem- 
porarily removed. 

The ever-present fear that besets the vast poor, the eco- 
nomically and socially insecure, is a fear of still a different 
breed. It is a climate closing in; it is like the fog in San 
Francisco or in London, It is nowhere in particular yet 

36 



FEAR 


everywhere. It is a mood which one carries around with 
himself, distilled from the acrid conflict with which his 
days are surrounded. It has its roots deep in the heart of 
the relations between the weak and the strong, between 
the controllers of environment and those who are con- 
trolled by it. 

When the basis of such fear is analyzed, it is clear that 
it arises out of the sense of isolation and helplessness in the 
face of the varied dimensions of violence to which the 
underprivileged are exposed. Violence, precipitate and 
stark, is the sire of the fear of such people. It is spawned 
by the perpetual threat of violence everywhere. Of course, 
physical violence is the most obvious cause. But here, it is 
important to point out, a particular kind of physical violence 
or its counterpart is evidenced; it is violence that is devoid 
of the element of contest. It is what is feared by the rabbit 
that cannot ultimately escape the hounds. One can almost 
see the desperation creep into the quivering, pulsing body 
of the frightened animal. It is one-sided violence. If two 
men equally matched, or even relatively matched, are in 
deadly combat, the violence is clear-cut though terrible; 
there is gross equality of advantage. But when the power 
and the tools of violence are on one side, the fact that there 
is no available and recognized protection from violence 
makes the resulting fear deeply terrifying. 

In a society in which certain people or groups— by virtue 
of economic, social, or political power— have dead-weight 
advantages over others who are essentially without that 
kind of power, those who are thus disadvantaged know that 

37 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

they cannot fight back effectively, that they cannot pro- 
tect themselves, and that they cannot demand protection 
from their persecutors. Any slight conflict, any alleged in- 
sult, any vague whim, any unrelated frustration, may bring 
down upon the head of the defenseless the full weight of 
naked physical violence. Even in such a circumstance it is 
not the fear of death that is most often at work; it is the 
deep humiliation arising from dying without benefit of 
cause or purpose. No high end is served. There is no trumpet 
blast to stir the blood and to anesthetize the agony. Here 
there is no going down to the grave with a shout; it is 
merely being killed or being beaten in utter wrath or in- 
different sadism, without the dignity of being on the re- 
ceiving end of a premeditated act hammered out in the 
white heat of a transcendent moral passion. The whole ex- 
perience attacks the fundamental sense of self-respect and 
personal dignity, without which a man is no man. 

In such physical violence the contemptuous disregard for 
personhood is the fact that is degrading. If a man knows 
that he is the object of deliberately organized violence, in 
which care has been exercised to secure the most powerful 
and deadly weapon in order to destroy him, there may be 
something great and stimulating about his end. Conceivably 
this is a lesson that may be learned from one interpretation 
of the slaying of the giant Goliath. The great Goliath, the 
symbol of the might and prowess of the Philistines, is 
equipped for battle, armor replete, sword and protectors in 
order. Then there is David, just a lad— perhaps in short 
shirt, possibly without even sandals. For him no armor, no 

38 


FEAR 


sword, no helmet— just a boy with a slingshot in his hand. 
David’s preparation for battle may be thought to reflect 
David’s estimate of the might and prowess of the Philistines. 
When the great Goliath beheld David, and the full weight 
of the drama broke upon him with force, it well might be 
literally true that under the tension growing out of a sense 
of outraged dignity he burst a blood vessel, resulting in 
apoplexy. 

Always back of the threat is the rumor or the fact that 
somewhere, under some similar circumstances violence was 
used. That is all that is necessary. The threat becomes the 
effective instrument. There was a dog that lived at the end 
of my street in my home town. Every afternoon he came 
down the street by the house. I could always hear liim 
coming, giving a quick, sharp yelp in front of certain yards 
along the way. He w^as not hit by flying stones; each boy 
would catch the dog’s eye and draw his arm back— the yelp 
followed immediately. The threat was sufficient to secure 
the reaction because, somewhere in the past, that particular 
motion had been identified with pain and injury. Such is 
the role of the threat of violence. It is rooted in a past ex- 
perience, actual or reported, which tends to guarantee the 
present reaction of fear. 

The disinherited experience the disintegrating effect of 
contempt in some such fashion as did Goliath. There are 
few things more devastating than to have it burned into 
you that you do not count and that no provisions are made 
for the literal protection of your person. The threat of 
violence is ever present, and there is no way to determine 

39 


JESUS ANO THE DISINHERITED 

precisely when it may come crushing down upon you. In 
modem power politics this is called a war of nerves. The 
underprivileged in any society are the victims of a perpetual 
war of nerves. The logic of the state of affairs is physical 
violence, but it need not fulfill itself in order to work its 
perfect havoc in the souls of the poor. 

Fear, then, becomes the safety device with which the 
oppressed surround themselves in order to give some 
measure of protection from complete nervous collapse. 
How do they achieve this? In the first place, they make 
their bodies commit to memory ways of behaving that will 
tend to reduce their exposure to violence. Several years ago, 
when I was in India, I experienced precisely what is meant 
here. It was on our first evening in the country that a friend 
came to visit and to give advice about certain precautions 
to be observed. Just before he left, a final caution was given 
about snakes. He advised that we should not walk around 
at night without a light, not go into an unlighted room at 
night. We should sleep with a flashlight under the pillow, 
so that if it were necessary to get up during the night, a 
circle of light could be thrown on the floor before stepping 
out of bed, lest we disturb the nocturnal rambling of some 
unsuspecting cobra. I sat alone for some time after he left. 
During that period of concentration I was literally teaching 
my body how to behave, so that after that particular eve- 
ning it would be extremely difiicult for me to violate his 
expressed advice. My conditioning was so complete that, 
subsequently, my behavior was automatic. 

This is precisely what the weak do everywhere. Through 

40 


FEAR 


bitter experience they have learned how to exercise extreme 
care, how to behave so as to reduce the threat of immediate 
danger from their environment. Fear thus becomes a form 
of life assurance, making possible the continuation of 
physical existence with a minimum of active violence. 

Children are taught how to behave in this same way. 
The children of the disinherited live a restricted childhood. 
From their earliest moments they are conditioned so as to 
reduce their exposure to violence. In Felix Sal ten’s Bambi, 
the old stag counsels Bambi, giving to him in great detail 
a pattern of behavior that will reduce his chance of being 
shot without an opportunity for escape. He teaches him to 
distinguish human scent, the kinds of exposure that may 
be deadly, what precise kind of behavior is relatively safe. 
The stag is unwilling to leave Bambi until he is sure that 
the young deer has made his body commit to memory ways 
of behaving that will protect and safeguard his life. 

The threat of violence within a framework of well-nigh 
limitless power is a weapon by which the weak are held in 
check. Artificial limitations are placed upon them, re- 
stricting freedom of movement, of employment, and of 
participation in the common life. These limitations are given 
formal or informal expression in general or specific policies 
of separateness or segregation. These policies tend to freeze 
the social status of the insecure. The threat of violence may 
be implemented not only by constituted authority but also 
by anyone acting in behalf of the established order. Every 
member of the controllers’ group is in a sense a special 
deputy, authorised by the mores to enforce the pattern. 

41 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

This fact tends to create fear, which works on behalf of 
the proscriptions and guarantees them. The anticipation of 
possible violence makes it very difficult for any escape from 
the pattern to be effective. 

It is important to analyze the functioning of segregation 
that we may better understand the nature of the fear it 
engender. It is obvious that segregation can be established 
only between two groups that are unequal in power and 
control. Two groups that are relatively equal in power in 
a society may enter into a voluntary arrangement of sepa- 
rateness. Segregation can apply only to a relationship 
involving the weak and the strong. For it means that limita- 
tions are arbitrarily set up, which, in the course of time, 
tend to become fixed and to seem normal in governing the 
etiquette between the rwm groups. A peculiar characteristic 
of segregation is the ability of the stronger to shuttle back 
and forth between the prescribed areas with complete im- 
munity and a kind of mutually tacit sanction; while the 
position of the weaker, on the other hand, is quite definitely 
fixed and frozen. 

A very simple illustration is the operation of Jim Crow 
travel in trains in the southern part of the United States. 
On such a train the porter, when he is not in line of duty, 
may ride only in the Jim Crow coach— for the train porter 
is a Negro, But the members of the train crew who are not 
Negroes— the conductor, brakeman, baggageman— when 
they are not working, may ride either in the Jim Crow 
section or in any other section of the train. In the town 
in Florida in which I grew up as a boy it was a common 

42 


FEAR 


occurrence for white persons to attend our church sendees 
and share in the worship. But it was quite impossible for 
any of us to do the same in the white churches of the com- 
munity. All over the world, wherever ghettos are found, 
the same basic elements appear— a fact which dramatizes 
the position of weakness and gives the widest possible range 
to the policing effect of fear generated by the threat of 
violence. 

Given segregation as a factor determining relations, the 
resources of the environment are made into instruments to 
enforce the artificial position. Most of the accepted social 
behavior-patterns assume segregation to be nonnal— if nor- 
mal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then 
religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor 
of the presumptions. God, for all practical purposes, is 
imaged as an elderly, benign white man, seated on a white 
throne, with bright, white light emanating from his coun- 
tenance. Angels are blonds and brunets suspended in the 
air around his throne to be his messengers and execute his 
purposes. Satan is viewed as being red with the glow of fire. 
But the imps, the messengers of the devil, are black. The 
phrase “black as an imp” is a stereot)q3e. 

The implications of such a view are simply fantastic in 
the intensity of their tragedy. Doomed on earth to a fixed 
and unremitting status of inferiority, of which segregation 
is symbolic, and at the same time cut off from the hope 
that the Creator intended it otherwise, those who are thus 
victimized are stripped of all social protection. It is vicious 
and thoroughly despicable to rationalize this position, the 

43 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

product of a fear that is as sordid as it is unscrupulous, 
into acceptance. Under such circumstances there is but a 
step from being despised to despising oneself. 

The fear that segregation inspires among the weak in 
turn breeds fear among the strong and the dominant. This 
fear insulates the conscience against a sense of wrongdoing 
in carrying out a policy of segregation. For it counsels that 
if there were no segregation, there would be no protection 
against invasion of the home, the church, the school. This 
fear perpetuates the Jewish ghettos in Western civilization, 
the restrictive covenants in California and other states, the 
Chinatowns, the Little Tokyos, and the Street of the Un- 
touchables in Hindu iands.^ 

The Jewish community has long been acquainted with 
segregation and the persecution growing out of it. Jews 
have been all the more easily trapped by it because of the 
deep historical conviction that they are a chosen people. 
This conviction and its underscoring in the unique ethical 
insights of the prophets have tended to make all those who 
were not a part of Israel feel in some sense as if they were 
spiritual outcasts. The conscious and unconscious reaction 
inspired by this sense of being on the outside is a fertile 
seedbed for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a confession 
of a deep sense of inferiority and moral insecurity. It is 
the fear of the socially or politically strong in the presence 
of the threat of moral judgment implicit in the role of the 

^ Recently untouchability was outlawed by the Indian state. A Hindu 
government did what years of British rule failed to do. Perhaps this 
is as it should be. 


44 


FEAR 


Jewish community throughout human history. Jesus was 
intimately acquainted with this problem from the inside. 
Jesus knew all of this. 

His days were nurtured in great hostilities 
Focused upon his kind, the sons of Israel 
There was no moment in all his yeaK 
When he was free.® 

It is instructive to inquire into the effects of fear on the 
disadvantaged. Fear becomes acute, in the form of panic 
or rage, only at the moment when what has been threat 
becomes actual violence; but the mere anticipation of such 
an encounter is overwhelming simply because the odds are 
basically uneven. This fact is important to hold in mind. 
The disadvantaged man knows that in any conflict he must 
deal not only with the particular individual involved bur 
also with the entire group, then or later. Even recourse to 
the arbitration of law tends to be avoided becau.se of the 
fear that the interpretations of law wall be biased on the 
side of the dominant group. The result is the dodging of 
all encounters. The effect is nothing short of disaster in 
the organism; for, studies show, fear actually causes chem- 
ical changes in the body, affecting the blood stream and 
the muscular reactions, preparing the body either for fight 
or for flight. If flight is resorted to, it merely serves as an 
incentive to one’s opponent to track down and overpower. 

‘From my privately published volume of poems, The Greatest of 
These, p. 3. 


45 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

Furthermore, not to fight back at the moment of descending 
violence is to be a coward, and to be deeply and profoundly 
humiliated in one’s own estimation and in that of one’s 
friends and family. If he is a man, he stands in the presence 
of his woman as not a man. While it may be true that many 
have not had such experiences, yet each stands in candidacy 
for such an experience. 

It is clear, then, that this fear, which served originally 
as a safety device, a kind of protective mechanism for the 
weak, finally becomes death for the self. The power that 
saves turns executioner. Within the walls of separateness 
death keeps watch. There are some who defer this death 
by yielding all claim to personal significance beyond the 
little world in which they live. In the absence of all hope 
ambition dies, and the very self is weakened, corroded. 
There remains only the elemental will to live and to accept 
life on the terms that are available. There is a profound 
measure of resourcefulness in all life, a resourcefulness that 
is guaranteed by the underlying aliveness of life itself. 

The crucial question, then, is this: Is there any help to 
be found in the religion of Jesus that can be of value here? 
It is utterly beside the point to examine here what the 
religion of Jesus suggests to those who would be helpful 
to the disinherited. That is ever in the nature of special 
pleading. No man wants to be the object of his fellow’s 
pity. Obviously, if the strong put forth a great redemptive 
effort to change the social, political, and economic arrange- 
ments in which they seem to find their basic security, the 

46 


FEAR 


whole picmre would be altered. But this is apart from my 
thesis. Again the crucial question: Is there any help to be 
found for the disinherited in the religion of Jesus? 

Did Jesus deal with this kind of fear? If so, how did he 
do it? It is not merely, What did he say? even though his 
words are the important clues available to us. 

An analysis of the teaching of Jesus reveals that there 
is much that deals with the problems created by fear. After 
his temptation in the wilderness Jesus appeared in the 
synagogue and was asked to read the lesson. He chose to 
read from the prophet Isaiah the words which he declared 
as his fulfillment: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
because he hath anointed me . . , 
to preach deliverance to the captives, 
and recovering of sight to the blind, 
to set at liberty them that are bruised, 
to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 

And he closed the book. . . . And he began to say unto them, 
This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 

In the Song of Mary w'-e find words which anticipate the 
same declaration of Jesus: 

He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, 

and exalted them of low degree. 

He hath filled the hungry with good things; 

and the rich he hath sent empty away. 

47 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

The most specific statement which Jesus makes dealing 
with the crux of the problem is found in the tenth chapter 
of Matthew: ■ 

Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that 
shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. . . . 
x\nd fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill 
the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul 
and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? 
and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your 
Father. But the veiy^' hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear 
ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. 

Again in Luke: 

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure 
to give you the kingdom. 

In the great expression of affirmation and faith found in 
the Sermon on the Mount there appears in clearest outline 
the basis of his positive answer to the awful fact of fear 
and its twin sons of thunder-anxiety and despair: 

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, 
what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your 
body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and 
the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they 
sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into bams; yet your 
heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than 
they? Mffiich of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto 
his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider 
the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do 
they spin: And yet I say unto you. That even Solomon in all 

48 


FEAR 


his glon? was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God 
so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow 
is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye 
of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, WTat shall 
we eat? or, What shall we drink? or. Wherewithal shall we be 
clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: ) for 
your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these 
things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteous- 
ness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take there- 
fore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take 
thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the 
evil thereof. 

The core of the analysis of Jesus is that man is a child 
of God, the God of life that sustains all of nature and 
guarantees all the intricacies of the life-process itself. Jesus 
suggests that it is quite unreasonable to assume that God, 
whose creative activity is expressed even in such details 
as the hairs of a man’s head, would exclude from his con- 
cern the life, the vital spirit, of the man himself. This idea— 
that God is mindful of the individual— is of tremendous 
import in dealing with fear as a disease. In this world the 
socially disadvantaged man is constantly given a negative 
answer to the most important personal questions upon 
which mental health depends: “Who am I? W’hat am I?” 

The first question has to do with a basic self-estimate, a 
profound sense of belonging, of counting. If a man feels 
that he does not belong in the way in which it is perfectly 
normal for other people to belong, then he develops a 
deep sense of insecurity. When this happens to a person, 
it provides the basic material for what the psychologist 

49 



JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

calk an inferiority complex. It is quite possible for a man 
to have no sense of personal inferiority as such, but at the 
same time to be dogged by a sense of social inferiority. The 
a^vareness of being a child of God tends to stabilize the 
ei'-o and results in a new courage, fearlessness, and power. 
I have seen it happen again and again. 

When I was a youngster, this was drilled into me by my 
grandmother. The idea was gwen to her by a certain 
slave minister who, on occasion, held secret religious meet- 
ings tvith his fellow slaves. How everything in me quivered 
with the pulsing tremor of raw energy when, in her recital, 
she would come to the triumphant climax of the minister: 
“You— V’ou are not niggers. You— you are not slaves. Y'’ou 
are God’s children.” This established for them the ground 
of personal dignity, so that a profound sense of personal 
worth could absorb the fear reaction. This alone is not 
enough, but without it, nothing else is of value. The first 
task is to get the self immunized against the most radical 
results of the threat of vdoience. When this is accomplished, 
relaxation takes the place of the churning fear. The indi- 
vidual now feels that he counts, that he belongs. He senses 
the confirmation of his roots, and even death becomes a 
little thing. 

All leaders of men have recognized the significance of 
this need for a sense of belonging among those who feel 
themselves di<;advantaged. Sev^eral years ago I was talking 
with a young German woman who had escaped from the 
Nazis; first to Holland, then France, England, and finally 
to America. She described for me the powerful magnet 

50 


FEAR 


that Hitler was to German youth. The youth had lost their 
sense of belonging. They did not count; there was no 
center of hope for their marginal egos. According to my 
friend, Hitler told them: “No one loves you— I love you; 
no one will give you work— I will give you work; no one 
wants you-I want you.” And when they saw the sunlight 
in his eyes, they dropped their tools and followed him. He 
stabilized the ego of the German youth, and put it within 
their power to overcome their sense of inferiority. It is 
true that in the hands of a man like Hitler, power is ex- 
ploited and turned to ends which make for havoc and 
misery; but this should not cause us to ignore the basic 
soundness of the theory upon which he operated. 

A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically 
tends to shift the basis of his relationship with all his fel- 
lows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever 
may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of 
the integrity of his very life. It lifts that mere man to a 
place of pre-eminence that belongs to God and to God 
alone. He who fears is literally delivered to destruction. 
To the child of God, a scale of values becomes available 
by which men are measured and their true significance de- 
termined. Even the threat of violence, with the possibility 
of death that it carries, is recognized for what it is— merely 
the threat of violence with a death potential. Such a man 
recognizes that death cannot possibly be the worst thing 
in the world. There are some things that are worse than 
death. To deny one’s own integrity of personality in the 
presence of the human challenge is one of those things. 

51 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

“Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that 
have no more that they can do,” says Jesus. 

One of tile practical results following this new orienta- 
tion Is the abilitj' to make an objective, detached appraisal 
of otiicr people, particularly one’s antagonists. Such an 
appraisal protects one from inaccurate and exaggerated 
estimations of another person’s significance. In a conversa- 
tion with me Lincoln Steffens once said that he was sure 
he could rear a child who was a member of a minority 
group or who was a habitue of a ghetto so as to immunize 
him against the corroding effects of such limitations. 

He said: “I would teach him that he must never call 
another man ‘great’; but that he must always qualify the 
term with the limiting phrase ‘as to,’ of the Greek language. 
A man is never great in general, but he may be great as 
to something in particular. 

“Let me give you an illustration. Once I was the house 
guest in Berlin of one of the world’s greatest scientists. 
During the first few days of my sojourn, I was completely 
disorganized. I was nervous, tended to be inarticulate, 
generally confused, and ill at ease. I had either to get a 
hold on myself or bring my visit abruptly to an end. One 
morning while shaving it occurred to me that despite my 
profound limitations of knowledge in physics and mathe- 
matics, I knew infinitely more about politics than did my 
host. At breakfast I found my tongue and my dignity, and 
the basis of equality between us was at once restored. My 
host was a great man as to his particular field of natural 
science, while I was competent in the field of contemporary 

52 


FEAR 


politics and affairs. This awareness gave me my per- 
spective.” 

The illustration anticipates the second basic question 
that must be answered by the disinherited; “Wliat am I?” 
This question has to do, not with a sense of innate belong- 
ing, but rather with personal achievement and ability. All 
of the inner conflicts and frustrations growing out of 
limitations of opportunity become dramatically focused 
here. Even though a man is convinced of his infinite worth 
as a child of God, this may not in itself give him the op- 
portunity for self-realization and fulfillment that his spirit 
demands. Even though he may no longer feel himself 
threatened by violence, the fact remains that for him doors 
often are closed. There are vocational opportunities that 
are denied him. It is obvious that the individual must reckon 
with the external facts of his environment, especially those 
that constrict his freedom. 

There is something more to be said about the inner 
equipment growing out of the great affinnation of Jesus 
that a man is a child of God. If a man’s ego has been stabi- 
lized, resulting in a sure grounding of his sense of personal 
worth and dignity, then he is in a position to appraise his 
owm intrinsic pow’^ers, gifts, talents, and abilities. He no 
longer views his equipment through the darkened lenses 
of those who are largely responsible for his social predica- 
ment. He can think of himself w'ith some measure of de- 
tachment from the shackles of his immediate w'orld. If he 
equips himself in terms of training in this mood, his real 
ability is brought into play. The fact that he is denied 

53 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

opportunity will not necessarily deter Wm. He will post- 
pone defeat imtil defeat itself closes in upon him. The 
interesting foct is that defeat may not close in upon him. 
Curious indeed is tlie notion that plays hide-and-seek with 
human life: “I may be an exception.” A large measure of 
illusion and self-deception is implicit in this notion, but 
again and again it has come to the rescue of desperate 
people forced to take desperate chances. 

The psychological effect on the individual of the con- 
viction that he is a child of God gives a note of integrity 
to whatever he does. It provides character in the sense of 
sure knowledge and effective performance. After all, this 
is what we mean by character when applied to ability in 
action. I’Hien a man is sick and calls a doctor, what he 
wants most to know about the doctor is not the make of 
his automobile, or whether he obeys traffic signals, or what 
church he attends, or how many children he has, or if he 
is married. What is most crucial about the doctor, so far 
as the sick man is concerned, is, Can he practice medicine? 

Now, what we are discussing has profound bearing upon 
the kind of assurance and guidance that should be given 
to children 'wffio seem destined to develop a sense of defeat 
and frustration. The doom of the children is the greatest 
tragedy of the disinherited. They are robbed of much of 
the careless rapture and spontaneous joy of merely being 
dive. Through their environment they are plunged into 
the midst of overwhelming pressures for which there can 
be no possible preparation. So many tender, joyous things 
m them are nipped and killed without their even knowing 


FEAR 


the true nature of their loss. The normal for them is the 
abnormal. Youth is a time of soaring hopes, when dreams 
are given first wings and, as reconnoitering birds, csplore 
unknown landscapes. Again and again a man full of years 
is merely the corroboration of the dreams of his youth. 
The sense of fancy growing out of the sense of fact— which 
makes ail healthy personalities and gives a touch of romance 
and glory to all of life— first appears as the unrestrained 
imaginings of youth. 

But the child of the disinherited is likely to live a heavy 
life. A ceiling is placed on his dreaming by the counsel of 
despair coming from his elders, whom e.xperience has 
taught to expect little and to hope for less. If, on the other 
hand, the elders understand in their owm experiences and 
lives the tremendous insight of Jesus, it is possible for them 
to share their enthusiasm wdth their children. This is the 
qualitative overtone springing from the depths of religious 
insight, and it is contagious. It will put into the hands of 
the child the key for unlocking the door of lus hopes. It 
must never be forgotten that human beings can be condi- 
tioned in favor of the positive as well as the negative. A 
great and central assurance will cause parents to condition 
their children to high endeavor and great aspiring, and 
these in turn will put the child out of the immediate, claw- 
ing reaches of the tense or the sustained negations of his 
environment. I have seen it happen. In communities that 
were completely barren, with no apparent growing edge, 
without any point to provide light for the disadvantaged, 
I have seen children grow up without fear, with quiet 

55 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

dignit}' and such high purpose that the mark which they 
set for themseives has even been transcended. 

The charge that such thinking is merely rationalizing 
cannot be made with easy or accepted grace by the man 
of basic advantage. It ill behooves the man who is not 
forced to live in a ghetto to tell those %vho must how to 
transcend its limitations. The awareness that a man is a 
child of the God of religion, who is at one and the same 
time the God of life, creates a profound faith in life that 
nothing can destroy. 

Nothing less than a great daring in the face of over- 
whelming odds can achieve the imier security in which 
fear cannot possibly survive. It is true that a man cannot 
be serene unless he possesses something about which to be 
serene. Here we reach the high-water mark of prophetic 
religion, and it is of the essence of the religion of Jesus of 
Nazareth. Of course God cares for the grass of the field, 
which lives a day and is no more, or the sparrow that falls 
unnoticed by the wayside. He also holds the stars in their 
appointed places, leaves his mark in every living thing. 
And he cares for me! To be assured of this becomes the 
answer to the threat of violence— yea, to violence itself. 
To the degree to which a man knows this, he is unconquer- 
able from withm and without. 

When I was a very small boy, Halley’s comet visited our 
solar system. For a long time I did not see the giant in the 
sky because I was not permitted to remain up after sun- 
down. My chums had seen it and had told me perfectly 
amazing things about it. Also I had heard of what were 

5<S 


FEAR 


called “comet pills.” The theory was that if the pills were 
taken accoiding to directions, then when the tail of the 
comet struck the earth one would not be consumed. One 
night I was awakened by my mother, who told me to 
dress quickly and come with her out into the backyard to 
see the comet. I shall never forget it if I live forever. .\Iv 



mother stood with me, her hand resting on my sho; 
while I, in utter, speechless awe, beheld the great sp& 
with its fan of light spreading across the heavens, 
silence was like that of absolute motion. Finally, after 
seemed to me 


what 

an interminable time interval, I found my 
speech. With bated breath I said, “What will happen to 

us if that comet falls out of the sky 

My mother s silence was so long that I looked from the 
comet to her face, and there I beheld something in her 
countenance that I had seen only once before, when I 
came into her room and found her in prayer. When she 
spoke, she said, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard; 
God will take care of us.” 

O simplehearted mother of mine, in one glorious mo- 
ment you put your heart on the ultimate affirmation of the 
human spirit! Many things have I seen since that night. 
Times without number I have learned that life is hard'", as 
hard as crucible steel; but as the years have unfolded, the 
majestic power of my mother’s glowing words has come 
back again and again, beating out its rhythmic chant in mj’ 
own spirit. Here are the faith and the awareness that over- 
come fear and transform it into the power to strive, to 
achieve, and not to yield. 


57 


(JIAPTI'K THREE 


Deception 

Deception is perhaps the oldest of all the techniques 
by which the weak have protected themselves against the 
strong. Through the ages, at all stages of sentient activity, 
the weak have survived by fooling the strong. 

TIte techniques of deception seem to be a part of the 
nervous-reflex action of the organism. The cuttlefish, when 
attacked, will release some of the fluid from his sepia bag, 
making the water aU around him murky; in the midst of 
the cloudy water he confuses his attacker and makes his 
escape. Almost any hunter of birds has seen the mother 
simulate a broken w'ing so as to attract attention to herself 
and thereby save the life of her young. As a boy I have seen 
the shadow of the hawk on the grassy meadow where I lay 
resting underneath a shade tree. Consider the behavior of 
the birds a few feet away as they see the shadow. I have 
seen them take little feet full of dried grass or leaves, turn 
an easy half somersault, and play dead. The hawk blinks 
his eyes, thinks he has had an optical illusion, and goes on 

58 


DECEPTION 


to find birds that do not know enough to pretend to be 
dead. We often played a game of hide-and-scek in which 
the refrain was, “Lay low, slick duck, the hawk’s around.” 
Natural selection has finally resulted in giving to various 
animals neutral colors or blending colon; so that they fade 
into the landscape and thus protect themselves from de- 
struction by deceiving the enemy. 

All little children well know this technique. They know 
that they cannot cope with the parental will on equal terms. 
Therefore, in order to carry on their own purposes, they 
work all kinds of simple— and not so simple— schemes for 
making the parents do the children’s will as if it were 
their own. Until the teacher catches on, it is a favorite 
device of students. When a particular lesson has not been 
studied, or there is danger that the teacher will cover terri- 
tory that extends beyond the day’s preparation, some ap- 
parently innocent question is asked about the teacher’s 
prejudice, pet interest, or particular concern. Once the 
teacher is discussing that particular point, there is nothing 
more to fear; for before he cora^ to the end of his talk, 
the bell will ring and all will be saved. 

It is an ancient device that a man-dominated social order 
has forced upon women, even down to latest times. Olive 
Schreiner spent much of her energy attacking this form of 
deception by which the moral life of women was bound. 
Much of the constant agitation for an equal-rights amend- 
ment to the Constitution grows out of recognition of the 
morally degrading aspects of deception and dishonesty that 
enter into the relationship between men and women. 

59 


JESrS AND THE DISINHERITED 

W'licn the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, 
tile prophet Ezekiel could not give words of comfort and 
guidance by direct and overt statement. If he had, he 
uxmld not have lasted very long, and the result would have 
iieen a great loss to his people and a tightening of the bonds 
that held them. He would have been executed as a revo- 
lutionary in short order and all religious freedom would 
have been curtailed. What did the prophet do? He resorted 
to a form of deception. He put words in the mouth of an 
old king of Tyre that did not come from him at all, but 
from Nebuchadrezzar. It was Nebuchadrezzar who had 
said, “1 am a God.” He used what we would call now 
“double talk.” But the Jews understood, even though the 
Bab)'!onian “secret service” was helpless because he was 
not openly talking against the state. 

In a certain southern city a blind Negro had been killed 
by a policeman. Feeling ran very high. The Negroes were 
not permitted to have any kind of eulogy or sermon at the 
funeral sendee. There was fear of rioting. Nevertheless, 
the funeral was held, with policemen very much in evi- 
dence. There was no sermon, but there was a central 
prayer. In the prayer the minister told God all that he 
would have said to the people had he not been under vcty 
rigid surveillance. The officers could do nothing, for the 
minister was not addressing the people; he was talking to 
his God. How tragically sordid! But it is the old, old method 
by which the weak have survived through the years. 

One of the oldest of the Negro spirituals deals quite 

60 


DECEPTION 


interestingly with this technique. The setting is veiy dra- 
matic. 

The slave had often heard his master’s minister talk about 
heaven, the final abode of the righteous. Naturally the 
master regarded himself as fitting into the categor}'. On the 
other hand, the slave knew that he too was ijoing to heaven. 
He reasoned, “There must be uvo heavens— no, this cannot 
be true, because there is only one God. God cannot possiliiy 
be divided in this way. I have it! I am having my hell now. 
When I die, I shall have my heaven. The master’s having 
his heaven now. When he dies, he will have his hell.” The 
next day, chopping cotton beneath the torrid skies, the 
slave said to his mate: 

I got shoes, 

You got shoes. 

All God’s children got shoes. 

When we get to heaven 
We’re goin’ to put on our shoes 
An’ shout all over God’s heaven. 

Heaven! Heaven! 

Then, looking up to the big house where the master lived, 
he said: 

Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven 
Ain’t goin’ there! 

Instances could be multiplied from all over the world, 
and from as far back in human history as records have been 
kept. It is an old, old defense of the weak against the strong. 

61 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

Tlie question of deception is not academic, but profoundly 
ethica! and spiritual, going to the very heart of all human 
relations. For it raises the issue of honesty, integrity, and 
the con.sequences thereof over against duplicity and decep- 
tion and the attendant consequences. Does the fact that a 
particular course of action jeopardizes a man’s life relieve 
liiin of the necessity for following that course of action? 
.\rc there circumstances under which the ethical question 
is irrelevant, beside the point? If so, where does one draw 
the line? Is there a fine distinction between literal honesty 
and hone.sty in spirit and intent? Or is truthtelling largely 
a matter of timing? Arc there times when to tell the truth 
is to be false to the truth that is in you? These questions 
and many related ones will not be downed. For the dis- 
inherited they have to do with the very heart of suirnval. 

It may be argued that a man who places so high a price 
upon physical e.'dstence and sunnval that he is willing to 
perjure his own soul has a false, or at least an inadequate, 
sense of values. “\^’hat shall a man give in exchange for 
his o%vn soul?” Jesus asks. The physical existence of a man 
makes of him the custodian, the keeper, of the fragment 
of life which is his. He lives constantly under the necessity 
to have life fulfill itself. Should he take chances, even in 
behalf of the values of a kind other than those which have 
to do with his ph^cal sur\'ival? With reference to the 
question of deception the disinherited are faced with three 
basic akematwes. 

The first alternative is to accept the apparent fact that, 
one’s situation being what it is, there is no sensible choice 

62 


DECEPTION 

offered. The individual is disadvantaged because he is not 
a member of the “party in power,” the dominant, con- 
trolling group. His word has no value anyway. In any con- 
test he is defeated before he starts. He cannot meet his 
opponent on equal terms, because there is no basis of 
equality that exists between the weak and the strong. The 
only thing that counts is victory— or any level on which 
victor}’’ can be achieved. There can be no question of 
honesty in dealing with each other, for there is no sense 
of community. Such a mood takes for granted a facile in- 
sincerity. 

The fact is, in any great struggle between groups in 
which the major control of the situation is on one side, the 
ethical question tends to become merely academic. The 
advantaged group assumes that they are going to be fooled, 
if it is possible; there is no e.xpectation of honesty and sin- 
cerity. They know that every conceivable device will be 
used to render ineffective the advantage which they have 
inherited in their position as the strong. The pattern of 
deception by which the weak are deprived of their civic, 
economic, political, and social rights without its appearing 
that they are so deprived is a matter of continuous and 
tragic amazement. The pattern of deception by which the 
w'eak circumvent the strong and manage to secure some of 
their political, economic, and social rights is a matter of 
continuous degradation. A vast conspiracy of silence covers 
all these maneuvers as the groups come into contact with 
each other, and the question of morality is not permitted 
to invade it. 


63 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

The tragic consequences of the alternative that there is 
110 altemative arc not far to seek. In the first place, it tends 
rt> i.icsrrov whatever sense of ethical values the individual 
possesses. It is a simple fact of psychology that if a man 
calLs a lie the truth, he tampers dangerously with his value 
judgments. Jesus called attention to that fact in one of his 
most revealing utterances. His mother, in an attempt to 
excuse him from the harsh judgment of his enemies, said 
that he M as a little out of his mind— not terribly crazy, but 
just a little off-balance. Those who did not like him said 
that he was all right with regard to his mind, but that he 
was’ full of the devil, and that k xvas by the power of the 
devil that he was casting out devils. Jesus, hearing the dis- 
cussion, said that these men did not talk good sense: “A 
house . . . divided against itself . . . cannot stand.” He sug- 
gested that if they continued saying that he was casting out 
devils by the power of the devil— and they knew that such 
was not the case— they would commit the unpardonable sin. 
That is to say, if a man continues to call a good thing bad, 
he will eventually lose his sense of moral distinctions. 

Is this always the result? Is it not possible to quarantine 
a certain kind of deception so that it will not affect the 
rest of one’s life? .May not the underprivileged do with 
deception as it relates to his soul what the human body does 
with tubercle bacilli? The body seems unable to destroy 
the bacilli, so nature builds a prison for them, walls them 
in with a thick fibrosis so that their toxin cannot escape 
from the lungs into the blood stream. As long as the victim 
exercises care in the matter of rest, work, and diet, normal 

(S4 


DECEPTION 


activities may be pursued without harm. Is deception a 
comparable technique of survwal, the fibrosis that protects 
the life from poison in its total outlook or in its other rela- 
tions.^ Or, to change the figure, may not deception be re- 
garded under some circumstances as a kind of blind spot 
that is functional in a limited area of experience? No! Such 
questions are merely attempts to rationalize one’s w^ay out 
of a critical difficulty. 

The penalty of deception is to become a deception, with 
all sense of moral discrimination vitiated. A man who lies 
habitually becomes a lie, and it is increasingly impossible 
for him to know when he is lying and when he is not. In 
other words, the moral mercury of life is reduced to zero. 
Shakespeare has immortalized this aspect of character in 
his drama of Macbeth. Macbeth has a high sense of destiny, 
which is deeply underscored by the testimony of the 
witches. This is communicated to his wife, who takes it 
to head and to heart. By a series of liquidations their friends 
disappear and their enemies multiply, until Macbeth is king 
and his wife is queen. Together they swim across Scotland 
in seas of blood, tying laurels on their brows with other 
people’s lives, heartstrings, and hopes. Then fatal things 
begin happening to them. Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep, 
trying in vain to wash blood from her hands. But the blood 
is not on her hands; it is on her soul. Macbeth becomes a 
victim of terrible visions and he cries: 

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more! 

Macbeth does murder sleep!” The innocent sleep. 

65 ' 


JESUS AXD THE DISINHERITED 

One day, at the most crucial point in .Macbeth’s life, an 
attendant announces to him that Lady .Macbeth is dead. 
1 lis rcplv reveals, in one agonizing flash, the death of values 
that lias taken place in him: 

She should have died hereafter; 

There would have been a time for such a word. 
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, 

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 
To the last syllable of recorded time, 

And all of our yesterdays have lighted fools 
The way to dusrv^ death. Out, out, brief candle! 

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage 
And then is heard no more: it is a tale 
Told bv an idiot, full of sound and fury, 

Signifying nothing. 

Life is only a tale told by a fool, having no meaning be- 
cause deception has wiped out all moral distinctions. 

The second alternative is a possible derivation from the 
first one. The underprivileged may decide to juggle the 
various areas of compromise, on the assumption that the 
moral quality of compromise operates in an ascending- 
descending scale. xAccording to this argument, not all Issues 
are equal in significance nor in consequence; it may be that 
some compromises take on the aspect of inevitability be- 
cause of circumstances over which the individual has no 
control. It is true that we are often bound by a neuvork 
of social relations that operate upon us without being par- 
ticularly affected by us. We are all affected by forces, 

66 


DECEPTION 


social and natural, that in some measure determine our be- 
havior without our being able to bring to bear upon them 
our private will, however great or righteous it may be. 

All over the world there are millions of people who are 
condemned by the powerful in their society to live in 
ghettos. The choice seems to be the ghetto or suicide. But 
such a conclusion may be hasty and ill-advised; it may be 
the counsel of the kind of fear we discussed previously, or 
it may be the decision of cowardice. For all practical pur- 
poses there are great numbers of people who have decided 
to live, and to compromise on the matter of place and 
conditions. Further, we may say that those who have power 
know that the decision w'ill be to live, and have counted 
on it. They are prepared to deal ruthlessly with any form 
of effective protest, because effective protest upsets the 
status quo. Life, then, becomes a grim game of wits, and 
the stakes are one’s physical existence. 

The term “compromise” then takes on a very special 
and highly differentiated meaning. It is less positive than 
ordinary deception, which may be regarded as deliberate 
strategy. If the assumption is that survival with some 
measure of freedom is at stake, then compromise is defined 
in terms of the actions which involve one’s life continuation. 
It is a matter of behavior patterns. Many obvious inter- 
ferences with freedom are ignored completely. Many in- 
sults are cast aside as of no consequence. One does battle 
only when not to do battle is to be vanquished without the 
recognition that comes from doing battle. To the morally 
sensitive person the whole business is sordid and degrading. 

67 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

It is safe to say that the common attitude taken toward 
these deceptions that have to do with sur\dvai is that they 
arc amoral. The moral question is never raised. To raise 
such a question is regarded as sheer stupidity. The behavior 
involved is in the same category as seeking and getting food 
or providing shelter for oneself. It belongs in the general 
ciassilication of simple survival behavior. Obviously this 
is the reason why it is so difficult to make a moral appeal, 
either to the dominant group or to the disinherited, in order 
to bring about a change in the basic relation between them. 
For better or for worse, according to this aspect of our 
analysis, there is no point at which mere moral appeal 
makes sense. Whatever moral sensitiveness to the situation 
was present at some stage in the life of the individual has 
long since been atrophied, due to betrayal, suffering, or 
frustration. 

This alternative, then, must be discussed from the point 
of view of the observer rather than from that of the victim. 
The rank and file of the oppressed do not formally raise 
the questions involved in their behavior. Specifically, the 
applicability of religion is restricted to those areas in which 
religious considerations commend themselves as being rea- 
sonable. A profound piece of surgery has to take place in 
the very psyche of the disinherited before the great claim 
of the religion of Jesus can be presented. The great stretches 
of barren places in the soul must be revitalized, brought to 
life, before they can be challenged. Tremendous skill and 
power must be exercised to show to tlie disinherited the 
awful results of the role of negative deception into which 

68 


DECEPTION 


their lives have been cast. How to do this is perhaps the 
greatest challenge that the religion of Jesus faces in modern 
life. 

Mere preaching is not enough. What are words, however 
sacred and powerful, in the presence of the grim facts of 
the daily struggle to surtuve.? Any attempt to deal with 
this situation on a basis of ^’■alues that disregard the struggle 
for survival appears to be in itself a compromise with life. 
It is only when people live in an environment in which 
they are not required to exert supreme effort into just 
keeping alive that they seem to be able to select ends be- 
sides those of mere physical survival. On the subsistence 
level, values are interpreted in terms of their bearing upon 
the one major concern of all activity— not being lolled. This 
is really the form that the dilemma takes. It is not solely 
a question of keeping the body alive; it is rather how not 
to be killed. Not to be killed becomes the great end, and 
morality takes its meaning from that center. Until that 
center is shifted, nothing real can be accomplished. It is 
the uncanny and perhaps unwitting recognition of this fact 
that causes those in power to keep the disinherited from 
participation in meaningful social process. For if the dis- 
inherited get such a new center as patriotism, for instance- 
liberty within the framework of a sense of country or 
nation— then the aim of not being killed is swallowxd up 
by a larger and more transcendent goal. Above all else the 
disinherited must not have any stake in the social order; 
they must be made to feel that they are alien, that it is a 
great boon to be allowed to remain alive, not be extermi- 

69 



JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

nated. This was the psychology of the Nazis; it grew out 
of their theory of the state and the place given the Hebrew 
people in their ideolog)% Such is also the attitude of the 
Ku Klux Klan toward Negroes. 

Even within the disinherited group itself artificial and 
exaggerated emphasis upon not being killed tends to cheapen 
life. Thar is to say, the fact that the lives of the disinherited 
are lightly held by the dominant group tends to create the 
same attitude among them toward each other. 

We come now to the third alternative— a complete and 
devastating sincerity. I have in my possession a copy of a 
letter from Mahatma Gandhi to Muriel Lester. The letter 
sa)^ in part: “Speak the truth, without fear and without 
exception, and see everyone whose work is related to your 
purpose. You are m God’s work, so you need not fear 
man’s scorn. If they listen to your requests and grant them, 
you will be satisfied. If they reject them, then you must 
make their rejection your strength.” The acceptance of 
this alternative is to be simply, directly truthful, whatever 
may be the co.sr in life, limb, or securit}'-. For the individual 
who accepts this, there may be quick and speedy judgment 
with attendant loss. But if the number increases and the 
movement spreads, the vindication of the truth would fol- 
low in the wake. There must always be the confidence 
that the effect of truthfulness can be realized m the mind 
of the oppressor as well as the oppressed. There is no substi- 
tute for such a faith. 

Emphasis upon an unwavering sincerity points up at 
once the major challenge of Jesus to the isinherited and 

70 


DECEPTION 


the power of his most revolutionary appeal. “Let your 
communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is 
more than these cometh of evil.” “Ye have heard that it 
hath been said, An eye for an eye, . . . but I say unto you. 
That ye resist not evil.” What does he mean? Does he mean 
that factors having to do with physical survival are trivial 
or of no consequence? Is this emphasis merely the counsel 
of suicide? It seems inescapable that either Jesus was in- 
finitely more realistic than we dare imagine or, taking his 
words at their face value, he is talking as one who has no 
understanding of the basic facts of life that touch this 
central problem. From our analysis of the life of Jesus it 
seems clear that it was from wdthin the framework of great 
social pressures upon him and his group that he taught and 
lived to the very end. It is reasonable to assume, then, that 
he speaks out of understanding and that his words cannot 
be lightly disregarded, however devastating they may seem. 

It may be argued that the insistence upon complete sin- 
cerity has to do only with man’s relation to God, not with 
man’s relation to man. To what does such a position lead? 
Unwavering sincerity says that man should always recog- 
nize the fact that he lives always in the presence of God, 
always under the divine scrutiny, and that there is no really 
significant living for a man, whatever may be his status, 
until he has turned and faced the divine scrutiny. Here all 
men stand stripped to the literal substance of themselves, 
without disguise, without pretension, without seeming 
whatsoever. No man can fool God. From him nothing 
is hidden. 


71 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

TIioii compassest my path and my lying domm, 
and arc acquainted with all my wa}\s. 

For there is.o,ot a .word in my tongue, 

but, !o, O Lord, thou kii.owest it altogether. « . • 

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? 

or whitiie,r shall I flee from thy presence? 

If I ascend op into .heacen, thou a.rt there: 

if I, .make niv bed in heii, behold, thou, art there. . • . 

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; 
even the iiidit shall be iirfit about me. 

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; 

but the night shineth as the day; 

the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. 

Was it against the background of Iris heritage and his 
religious faith in the 139th psalm that Jesus assumed his 
great ethical imperative? This seems to be conclusively 
brought out in his treatment of the climax of human his- 
tory. The judge is on his throne; the sheep are on the 
right, the goats on the left. The Judge speaks: “I was an 
hungred, and yc gave me no meat: ... sick, and in prison, 
and ye visited me not.” 'Fhe climax of human history is 
interpreted as a time when the inner significance of men’s 
deeds would be revealed to them. But here a new note is 
introduced. Sincerity in human relations is equal to, and 
the same as, sincerity to God. If we accept this explanation 
as a clue to Jesus’ meaning, we come upon the stark fact 
that the insistence of Jesus upon genuineness is absolute; 
man’s relation to man and man’s relation to God are one 
relation. 

A death blow is struck to hypocrisy. One of the major 

72 


DECEPTION 


defense mechanisms of the disinherited is taken away from 
them. What does Jesus give them in its place? What does 
he substitute for hypocrisy? Sincerity. But is sincerity a 
mechanism of defense against the strong? The answer is 
No. Something more significant takes place. In the presence 
of an overwhelming sincerity on the part of the disin- 
herited, the dominant themselves are caught with no de- 
fense, with the edge taken away from the sense of 
prerogative and from the status upon which the impreg- 
nability of their position rests. They are thrown back upon 
themselves for their rating. The experience of powder has 
no meaning aside from the other-than-self reference which 
sustains it. If the position of ascendancy is not acknowledged 
tacitly and actively by those over whom the ascendancy 
is exercised, then it falls flat. Hypocrisy on the part of the 
disinherited in dealing with the dominant group is a tribute 
yielded by those who are weak. But if this attitude is lack- 
ing, or is supplanted by a simple sincerity and genuineness, 
then it follows that advantage due to the accident of birth 
or position is reduced to zero. Instead of relation between 
the weak and the strong there is merely a relationship be- 
tween human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The 
awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of 
human dignity. 


73 



CHAPTER FO0E 


Hate 

H ATE is another of the hounds of hell that dog the 
footsteps of the disinherited in season and out of season. 
During times of war hatred becomes quite respectable, even 
though it has to masquerade often under the guise of pa- 
triotism. To even the casual observer during the last war 
it was obvious that the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese 
gave many persons in our country an apparent justification 
for indulging all of their anticolored feelings. In. a Chicago 
cab, enroute to the LTniversity from Englewood, this fact 
w'as dramatized for me. The cab had stopped for a red 
light. Apropos of no conversation the driver turned to me, 
saj'ing, “Who do they think they are? Those little yellow 
dogs think they can do that to white men and get away 
with it!” 

During the early days of the war I noticed a definite 
rise in rudeness and overt expressions of color prejudice, 
especially in trains and other public conveyances. It was 
very simple; hatred could be brought out into the open, 

74 


HATE 


given a formal dignity and a place of respectability. But for 
the most part we are not vocal about our hatred. Flaring 
is something of which to be ashamed unless it provides for 
us a form of validation and prestige. If either is provided, 
then the immoral or amoral character of the hatred is 
transformed into positive violence. 

Christianity has been almost sentimental in its effort to 
deal with hatred in human life. It has sought to get rid of 
hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous 
judgments. It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred 
and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the 
lives of the people possessed by it. This reluctance to ex- 
amine hatred has taken on the character of a superstition. 
It is a subject that is taboo unless there is some extraordinar)^ 
social crisis— such as war— involving the mobilization of all 
the national resources of the common life to meet it. There 
is a conspiracy of silence about hatred, its function and its 
meaning. 

Hatred cannot be defined. It can only be described. If 
I were to project a simple diagram of hatred, revealing the 
anatomy of its development, the idea would break down 
as follows. 

In the first place, hatred often begins in a situation in 
which there is contact without fellowship, contact that is 
devoid of any of the primary overtures of warmth and 
fellow-feeling and genuineness. Of course, it must be borne 
in mind that there can be an abundance of sentimentality 
masquerading under the cloak of fellowship. It is easy to 
have fellowship on your own terms and to repudiate it if 

75 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

)-our terms are not acceptable. It is this Idnd of fellowship 
that one finds often in the South between whites and 
Negroes. As long as the Negro is called John or .Mary and 
accepts the profoundly humiliating position of an inferior 
status, fellowship is quire possible. Great sacrifices are even 
made for him, and ail the weight of position and power 
arc at the disposal of the weaker person. It is precisely be- 
cause of this false basis of fellow'ship so often found that 
in the section of the country where there is the greatest 
contact between Negro and white there is the least real 
fellowship, and the first step along the road of bitterness 
and hatred is assured. 

When we give to the concept a wider application, it is 
clear that much of modem life is so impersonal that there 
is always opportunity for the seeds of hatred to grow un- 
molested. Where there are contacts devoid of genuine fel- 
lowship, such contacts stand in immediate candidacy for 
hatred. 

In the second place, contacts without fellowship tend to 
e.xpress themselves in the kind of understanding that is 
strikingly unsympathetic. There is understanding of a kind, 
but it is without the healing and reinforcement of person- 
ality. Rather, it is like the experience of going into a man’s 
office and, in that moment before being seated, when the 
full gaze of the other is focused upon you, suddenly won- 
dering whether the top button of your vest is in place, but 
not daring to look. In a penetrating, incisive, cold under- 
standing there is no cushion to absorb limitations or to pro- 
vide e-xtenuating circumstances for protection. 

76 


HATE 


It is a grievous blunder to assume that understanding is 
always sympathetic. Very often we use the phrase “I under- 
stand” to mean something kindly, warm, and gracious. But 
there is an understanding that is hard, cold, minute, and 
deadly. It is the kind of understanding that one gives to 
the enemy, or that is derived from an accurate knowledge 
of another’s power to injure. There is an understanding of 
another’s weakness, which may be used as a weapon of 
offense or defense. Understanding that is not the outgrowth 
of an essential fellow-feeling is likely to be unsympathetic. 
Of course, there may be pity in it— even compassion, some- 
times— but sympathy, almost never. I can sympathize only 
when I see myself in another’s place. 

Unsympathetic understanding is the characteristic atti- 
tude governing the relation between the weak and the 
strong. All kinds of first aid may be rendered to the weak; 
they may be protected so long as there is the abject ac- 
knowledgment of their utter dependence upon the strong. 
When the Southern white person says, “I understand the 
Negro,” what he really means is that he has a knowledge 
of the Negro within the limitations of the boundaries which 
the white man has set up. The kind of Negro he under- 
stands has no existence except in his own mind. 

In the third place, an unsympathetic understanding tends 
to express itself in the active functioning of ill will. A few 
years ago I was going from Chicago to Memphis, Tennes- 
see. I found a seat across from an elderly lady, who took 
immediate cognizance of my presence. When the con- 

77 



JESUS AXD THE DISINHERITED 

ducror came along for the tickets, she said to him, pointing 
in m\' direction, “\^’hat is that doing in this car?” 

I'he conductor answered, with a touch of creative humor, 
'"That has a ticket.” 

F«.)r the next fifty miles this lady talked for five or ten or 
fifteen minutes with each person who was seated alone in 
that coach, setting forth her philosophy of human relation- 
ships and the basis of her objection to my presence in the 
car. I was able to see the atmosphere in the entire car shift 
from common indifference to active recognition of and, to 
some extent, positive resentment of my presence; an ill will 
spreading its virus by contagion. 

in rfie fourth place, ill will, when dramatized in a human 
being, becomes hatred walking on the earth. The outline 
is now complete and simple— contacts without fellowship 
developing hatred and e.xpres.sing themselves in unsympa- 
thetic understanding; an unsympathetic understanding 
tending to express itself in the e.xercise of ill will; and ill 
will, dramatized in a man or woman, becoming hatred walk- 
ing on the earth. 

In many analyses of hatred it is customary to apply it 
only to the attitude of the strong towards the weak. The 
general impression is that many wdiite people hate Negroes 
and that Negroes are merely the victims. Such an assump- 
tion is quire ridiculous. I was once seated in a Jim Crow car 
which extended across the highway at a railway station in 
Texas. Tavo Negro girls of about fourteen or fifteen sat 
behind me. One of them looked out of the window and 
said, “Look at those kids.” She referred to two little white 

78 


HATE 


girls, who were skating towards the train. “Wouldn’t it be 
funny if they fell and spattered their brains all over the 
pavement!” I looked at them. Through what torture cham- 
bers had they come— torture chambers that had so attacked 
the grounds of humaneness in them that there was nothing 
capable of calling forth any appreciation or understanding 
of white persons? There was something that made me 
shiver. 

Hatred, in the mind and spirit of the disinherited, is born 
out of great bitterness— a bitterness that is made possible by 
sustained resentment which is bottled up until it distills an 
essence of vitality, giving to the individual in whom this is 
happening a radical and fundamental basis for self-realiza- 
tion. 

Let me illustrate this. Suppose you are one of five children 
in a family and it happened, again and again, that if there 
was just enough for four children in any given circum- 
stance, you were the child who had to do without. If there 
was money for four pairs of shoes and five pairs were 
needed, it was you who did without shoes. If there were 
five pieces of cake on the plate, four healthy slices and one 
small piece, you were given the small slice. At first, when 
this happened, you overlooked it, because you thought that 
your sisters and brothers, each in his turn, would have the 
same experience; but they did not. Then you complained 
quietly to the brother who was closest to you in understand- 
ing, and he thought that you were being disloyal to your 
mother and father to say such a thing. In a moment of self- 
righteousness you spoke to your father about it. Your 

79 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

father put you on the carpet so severely that you decided 
nut to mention it again, but you kept on watching. The dis- 
crimination continued. 

At night, when the lights were out and you were safely 
rucked away in bed, you reached down into the quiet places 
of your little heart and lifted out your bundle of hates and 
resentments growing out of the family situation, and you 
fiitgcred them gently, one by one. In the darkness you mut- 
tered to yourself, “They^ can keep me from talking about it 
to them, but they’ can’t keep me from resenting it. I hate 
them for what they? are doing to me. No one can prevent 
me there.” Hatred becomes for you a source of validation 
for your personality. As you consider the family and their 
attitude toward ymu, ymur hatred gives you a sense of sig- 
nificance which you fling defiantly into the teeth of their 
estimate of you. 

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick there is an expression 
of this attitude. You will doubtless recall the story. Ahab 
has had his leg bitten off in an encounter with the white 
whale. He collects a motley crew, and they sail into the 
northern seas to find and conquer the whale. A storm comes 
up at sea, and Ahab stands on deck with his ivory leg fas- 
tened to the floor. He leans against the railing in utter 
defiance of the storm. His hair is disheveled, his face is fur- 
rowed, and there is a fever in his blood that only the con- 
quest of the white whale can cure. In effect, he says to the 
lightning, “You may destroy this vessel, you may dry up 
the bowels of the sea, you may consume me; but I cm still 
be ashes” 


80 


HATE 


It is this kind of attitude that is developed in the mind and 
soul of the weak and the disinherited. As they look out upon 
their world, they recognize at once that they are the victims 
of a systematic denial of the rights and privileges that are 
theirs, by virtue both of their being human and of their 
citizenship. Their acute problem is to deal with the esti- 
mate that their environment places upon them; for the en- 
vironment, through its power-controlling and prestige- 
bearing representatives, has announced to them that they 
do not rate anything other than that which is being visited 
upon them. If they accept this judgment, then the grounds 
of their self-estimate is destroyed, and their acquiescence 
becomes an endorsement of the judgment of the environ- 
ment. Because they are despised, they despise themselves. 
If they reject the judgment, hatred may serve as a device 
for rebuilding, step by perilous step, the foundation for in- 
dividual significance; so that from within the intensity of 
their necessity they declare their right to ejdst, despite the 
judgment of the environment. 

I remember that once, when moving from one home to 
another, I came upon a quiet family of mice in a box in the 
basement. Their presence created a moral problem for me, 
for I did not feel that I had the right to take their lives. 
Then I remembered my responsibility to the family that 
was moving in, and, with heaviness of heart, I took my 
daughter’s little broom and descended upon them with a 
mighty stroke. Sensing the impending tragedy, one of them 
raised himself on his haunches to meet the stroke of the 
broom with a squeal of defiance, affirming the core of his 

81 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

mouse integrity in the face of descending destruction. 
Hatred makes this sort of profound contribution to the life 
of the disinherited, because it establishes a dimension of 
self-realization hammered out of the raw materials of in- 
iustice. 

A distinct derivative from hatred’s contribution to self- 
rcaiization, when self-realization is established as a rallying 
point for the personality, is the tremendous source of dy- 
namic energy provided. Surplus energy is created and 
placed at the disposal of the individual’s needs and ends. In 
a sense the vitole personalit)’ is alerted. All Idnds of sup- 
ports for implementing one’s affirmed position are seized 
upon. A strange, new cunning possesses the mind, and every 
opportunity for taking advantage, for defeating the enemy, 
is revealed in clear perspective. One of the salient ways by 
which this expresses itself is the quality of endurance that 
appears. It is the sort of thing that causes a little boy, when 
he is being overpowered by a big boy, to refrain from tears 
or from giving any expression that will reveal the depths of 
his pain and hurt. He says to himself grimly, “Fll die before 
I cry.” 

I have already pointed out that the relationship between 
the strong and the weak is characterized often by its amoral 
aspect. When hatred senses as a dimension of self-realiza- 
tion, the illusion of righteousness is easy to create. Often 
there are but thin lines between bitterness, hatred, self- 
realization, defiance, and righteous indignation. The logic 
of the strong-weak relationship is to place all moral judg- 
ment of behavior out of bounds. A type of behavior that, 

82 


HATE 


under normal circumstances, would call for self-condemna- 
tion can very easily, under these special circumstances, be 
regarded as necessary and therefore defensible. To take 
advantage of the strong is regarded merely as settling an 
account. It is open season all the time, without the operation 
of normal moral inhibitions. It is a form of the old lex 
talionis—tye. for an eye, tooth for a tooth. 

Thus hatred becomes a device by which an individual 
seeks to protect himself against moral disintegration. He 
does to other human beings what he could not ordinarily 
do to them without losing his self-respect. This is an aspect 
of hatred that has almost universal application during a 
time of war and national crisis. Doubtless you will recall 
that during the last war a very interesting defense of hatred 
appeared in America, The reasoning ran something like 
this: American boys have grown up in a culture and a 
civilization in which they have absorbed certain broad at- 
titudes of respect for human personality, and other traits 
characteristic of gentlemen of refinement and dignity. 
Therefore they are not prepared psychologically or emo- 
tionally to become human war machines, to make them- 
selves conscious instruments of death. Something radical 
has to happen to their personality and their over-all out- 
look to render them more effective tools of destruction. 
The most effective way by which this transformation can 
be brought about is through discipline in hatred; for if they 
hate the enemy, then that hatred will immunize them from 
a loss of moral self-respect as they do to the enemy what is 
demanded 6f them in the successful prosecution of the war. 

83 - 



JESUS AN0 THE DISINHERITED 

To use a figure, a curtain was dropped in front of their 
moral values and their ethical integrity as human beings 
and Americans, and they moved around in front of that 
curtain to do their death-dealing work on other human 
beings. The curtain of protection %vas the disciplined 
hatred. A simple illustration of what I mean is this: There 
are some people who cannot tell you face to face pre- 
cisely what they think of you unless they get angry first. 
Anger serves as a protection of their finer sense of values 
as they look you in the eye and say things \vhich, under 
ordinary circumstances, they would not be able to say. 

Wlicn I was a boy, my mother occasionally found it 
necessary to punish me and my sister. Aly sister, when 
whipped, would look my mother in the face, showing no 
visible signs of emotional reaction. This attitude caused the 
burden of proof to shift from her shoulders to my mother’s 
shoulders, with the result that my mother did not whip my 
sister with such intensity growing out of self-righteous 
indignation as if the reaction had been otherwise. When my 
turn came, all the neighbors knew what was happening in 
the Thurman family. Therefore my mother whipped me 
with an attention to detail that was radical!)" different from 
the experience she had with my sister. .My attitude fed her 
indignation to the point of giving her complete immunity 
from self-condemnation. This is precise!)- what hatred does 
in human beings faced with hard and brutal choices in 
dealing with each other. 

It is not difficult to see how hatred, operating in this 
fashion, provides for the weak a basis for moral justifica- 

84 


HATE 


tion. Every expression of intolerance, every attitude of 
meanness, every statute that limits and degrades, gives fur- 
ther justification for life-negation on the part of the weak 
toward the strong. It makes possible for an individual to 
be life-affirming and life-negating at one and the same time. 
If a man’s attitude is life-negating in his relationships with 
those to whom he recognizes no moral responsibility, his 
conduct is without condemnation in his own mind. In his 
relations with his fellows to whom he recognizes moral re- 
sponsibility, his attitude is life-affirming. There must be 
within him some guarantee against contagion by the life- 
negating attitude, lest he lose a sense of moral integrity in 
all of his relationships. Hatred seems to function as such a 
guarantee. The oppressed can give themselves over with 
utter enthusiasm to life-affirming attitudes toward their 
fellow sufferers, and this becomes compensation for their 
life-negating attitude toward the strong. 

Of course, back of this whole claim of logic is the idea 
that there is a fundamental justice in life, upon which the 
human spirit in its desperation may rely. In its more beatific 
definition it is the basis of the composure of the martyr 
who is being burned at the stake; he seems to be caught up 
in the swirl of elemental energy and power that transforms 
the weakness and limitation of his personality into that 
which makes of him a superhuman being. 

It is clear, then, that for the weak, hatred seems to serve 
a creative purpose. It may be judged harshly by impersonal 
ethical standards, but as long as the weak see it as being 
inextricably involved in the complicated technique of sur- 

85 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

vival with dignity, it cannot easily be dislodged. Jesus un- 
derstood this. W'hat must have passed through his mind 
when he observed the contemptuous disregard for the Jews 
by the Romans, whose power had closed in on Israel? 
W'hat thoughts raced through his mind when Judas of 
G.ililee raised his rallying banner of defiance, sucking into 
the tempe.st of his embittered spirit many of the sons of 
Judiih? Is it reasonable to assume that Jesus did not under- 
stand the anatomy of hatred? In the face of the obvious 
facts of his environment he counseled against hatred, and 
his word is, “Love your enemies, . . . that ye may be the 
children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh 
his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth 
rain on the just and the unjust.” Why? 

Despite all the positive psychological attributes of hatred 
we have outlined, hatred destroys finally the core of the life 
of the hater. While it lasts, burning in white heat, its effect 
seems positive and dynamic. But at last it turns to ash, for 
it guarantees a final isolation from one’s fellows. It blinds the 
individual to all values of worth, even as they apply to 
himself and to his fellows. Hatred bears deadly and bitter 
fruit. It is blind and nondiscriminating. True, it begins by 
exercising specific discrimination. This it does by centering 
upon the persons responsible for the situations which create 
the reaction of resentment, bitterness, and hatred. But once 
hatred is released, it cannot be confined to the offenders 
alone. It is difficult for Iiatred to be informed as to objects 
when it gets under way. I remember that when I was an 
undergraduate in Atlanta, Georgia, a man came into the 

8(5 


HATE 


president’s office, in wliich I was the errand boy. The presi- 
dent was busy, so the man engaged me in conversation. 
Eventually he began talking about his two little boys. He 
said, among other things, “I am rearing my boys so that 
they will not hate Negroes. Do not misunderstand me. I 
do not love them, but I am wise enough to know that if I 
teach my boys to hate Negroes, they will end up hating 
white people as well,” Hatred cannot be controlled once it 
is set in motion. 

Some years ago a medical friend of mine gave me a 
physical examination. After weighing me he said, “You’d 
better watch your weight. You are getting up in years now, 
and your weight will have a bad effect on your vital organs.” 
He explained this in graphic detail. While he was talking, 
I chuckled; for, as I looked at him, I saw a man about 5 feet 
4 inches in height who weighed 215 pounds. My friend, 
the doctor, thought his body knew that he was a doctor. 
But his body did not know he was a doctor; the only thing 
it knew was that he was accumulating more energy through 
his food than his body was able to consume. Hence his 
body did precisely what mine was doing. It stored energy 
in the form of fat. 

Hatred is like that. It does not know anything about the 
pressures exerted upon the weak by the strong. It knows 
nothing about the extentuating circumstances growing out 
of a period of national crisis, making it seemingly necessary 
to discipline men in hatred of otlier human beings. The 
terrible truth remains. The logic of the development of 

87 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

hatred is death to the spirit and disintegration of ethica! and 
moral values. 

Above and beyond all else it must be borne in mind that 
hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in 
the life of the hater, so that his resourcefulness becomes 
completely focused on the negative aspects of his environ- 
ment. The urgent needs of the personality for creative ex- 
pression are starved to death. A man’s horizon may become 
so completely dominated by the intense character of his 
hatred that there remains no creative residue in his mind and 
spirit to give to great ideas, to great concepts. He becomes 
lopsided. To use the phrase from Zarathrustra, he becomes 
“a cripple in reverse.” 

Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the 
vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the 
incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred 
meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to com- 
munion with his Father, He affirmed life; and hatred was 
the great denial. To him it was clear 

Thou must not make division. 

Thy mind, heart, soul and strength must ever search 
To find the way by wliich the road 
To all men’s need of thee must go. 

This is the Highway of the Lord.^ 


‘From my privately published volume of poems, The Greatest of 
These, p. 9. 


S8 



CHAPTER FIVE 


Love 

The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central. This 
is no ordinary achievement. It seems clear that Jesus started 
out with the simple teaching concerning love embodied in 
the timeless words of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our 
God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God 
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy 
might,” and “thy neighbour as thyself.” Once the neighbor 
is defined, then one’s moral obligation is clear. In a memo- 
rable story Jesus defined the neighbor by telling of the 
Good Samaritan. With sure artistry and great power he 
depicted what happens when a man responds directly to 
human need across the barriers of class, race, and condition. 
Every man is potentially every other man’s neighbor. 
Neighborliness is nonspatial; it is qualitative. A man must 
love his neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barriers 
between. 

This was not an easy position for Jesus to take within 
his own community. Opposition to his teaching increased 

89 



JESUS AKD THE DISINHERITED 

as the days passed. A twofold demand was made upon him 
at all times: to love those of the household of Israel who 
became his enemies because they regarded him as a careless 
per\-erter of the truths of God; to love those beyond the 
household of Israel— the Samaritan, and even the Roman. 

The former demand was deeply dramatized by the fact 
that Jesus did not consider himself as one who stood outside 
of Israel. If he had regarded himself as one who was starting 
a new religion, a new faith, then it would not have been 
hard to account for bitter opposition. With justice, the de- 
fenders of the faith could have opposed him because he 
would have been deliberately trying to destroy the very 
grounds of Judaism. But if it be true— as I think it is— that 
Jesus felt he was merely serving as a creative vehicle for the 
authentic genius of Israel, completely devoted to the will 
of God, then in order to love those of the household he 
must conquer his owm pride. In their attitude he seemed to 
see the profoundest betrayal of the purpose of God. It is 
curious that as each looked on the other the accusations 
were identical. 

In the second place, Jesus had to deal with the Samaritans 
in working out the application of his love-ethic. His solu- 
tion of this bitter problem is found in the story of the Good 
Samaritan. There is also the very instructive account of the 
interview between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. 

Opposition to the interpretation which Jesus was giving 
to the gospel of God had increased, and Jesus and his disci- 
ples withdrew from active work into temporary semi- 
retirement around Tyre and Sidon. The woman broke into 

90 



LOVE 


his retreat with an urgent request in behalf of her child. 
Jesus said to her, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, 
and cast it to dogs.” This was more a probing query than 
an affirmation. It had in it ail the deep frustration which he 
had experienced, and there flashed through it generations of 
religious exclusiveness to which he was heir. “What right 
has this woman of another race to make a claim upon me? 
What mockery is there here? Am I not humiliated enough 
in being misunderstood by my own kind? And here this 
woman dares to demand that which, in the very nature of 
the case, she cannot claim as her due.” 

Into the riotous thoughts that were surging in his mind 
her voice struck like a bolt of lightning; “Truth, Lord: 
yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their mas- 
ters’ table.” 

“Go-go, woman, go in peace; your faith hath saved 
you.” 

But this was not all. Jesus had to apply his love-ethic to 
the enemy— to the Roman, the ruler. This was the hardest 
task, because to tamper with the enemy was to court dis- 
aster. To hate him m any way that caused action was to 
invite the wrath of Rome. To love him was to be regarded 
as a traitor to Jesus’ own people, to Israel, and therefore to 
God. As was suggested in the first chapter, it w'as upon the 
anvil of the Jewish community’s relations with Rome that 
Jesus hammered out the vital content of his concept of love 
for one’s enemy. 

“The enemy” can very easily be divided into three 
groups. There is first the personal enemy, one who is in 

91 


JESXJS AND THE DISINHERITED 

some sense a part of one’s primarj-group life. The relation- 
ship such a person is grounded in more or less inti- 
mate, personal associations into which has entered conflict. 
Such conflict may have resulted from misunderstanding or 
from harsh words growing out of a hot temper and too 
much pride on either side to make amends. It may have 
come about because of an old family feud by which those 
who were never a part of the original rift are victimized. 
The strained relationship may have been due to the evil 
work of a vicious tongue. The point is that the enemy in 
this sense is one who at some time was a rather intimate 
part of one’s world and was close enough to be taken into 
account in terms of intimacy. 

To love such an enemy requires reconciliation, the will 
to re-establish a relationship. It involves confession of error 
and a seeldng to be restored to one’s former place. Doubtless 
it is this that Jesus had in mind in his charge: “If thou 
bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy 
brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before 
the altar, . . . and go be reconciled to thy brother and then 
come and offer thy gift.” 

It is with this kind of enemy that the disinherited find 
it easiest to deal. They accept with good grace the insistence 
of Jesus that they deal vidth the rifts in their own world. 
Here, they are at the center; they count specifically, and 
their wills are crucial. When one analyzes the preaching and 
the religious teachings in the churches of his countiy, he dis- 
covers that the term “enemy” usually has this rather re- 
stricted meaning. When the Negro accepts the teaching of 

92 



LOVE 


love, it is this narrow interpretation which is uppermost. I 
grew up with this interpretation. I dare to say that, in the 
white churches in my little town, the youths were trained 
in the same narrow interpretation applied to white persons. 
Love those who have a natural claim upon you. To those 
who have no such claim, there is no responsibility. 

The second Idnd of enemy comprises those persons who, 
by their activities, make it difficult for the group to live 
without shame and humiliation. It does not require much 
imagination to assume that to the sensitive son of Israel the 
taxgatherers were in that class. It was they who became the 
grasping hand of Roman authority, filching from Israel the 
taxes which helped to keep alive the oppression of the gen- 
tile ruler. They were Israelites who understood the psy- 
chology of the people, and therefore were always able to 
function with the kind of spiritual ruthlessness that would 
have been impossible for those who did not know the peo- 
ple intimately. They were despised; they were outcasts, 
because from the inside they had unlocked the door to the 
enemy. The situation was all the more difficult to bear be- 
cause the tax collectors tended to be prosperous in contrast 
w'ith the rest of the people. To be required to love such a 
person was the final insult. How could such a demand be 
made? One did not even associate with such creatures. To 
be seen in their company meant a complete loss of status 
and respect in the community. The taxgatherer had no soul; 
he had long since lost it. When Jesus became a friend to the 
tax collectors and secured one as his intimate companion, it 

93 



JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

was a spiritual triumph of such staggering proportions that 
after nineteen hundred years it defies rational explanation. 

The argument for loving this second enemy was the fact 
that he too was a son of Abraham. He was one of them, 
unworthy though he was. Here was the so-called call of 
blood, which cannot be stilled. God required that Israel 
be one people, even as he was one. 

All underprivileged people have to deal with this kind of 
enemy. There are always those who seem to be willing to 
put their special knowledge at the disposal of the dominant 
group to facilitate the tightening of the chains. They are 
given position, often prominence, and above all a guarantee 
of economic security and status. To love such people re- 
quires the uprooting of the bitterness of betrayal, the 
heartiest poison that grows in the human spirit. There must 
be some understanding of how such people become as they 
are. Is it because they are weak and must build their strength 
by feeding upon the misery of their fellows? Is it because 
they want power and, recognizing the fact that they can 
never compete within the group for a place of significance, 
are thus driven by some strange inner urge to get by cun- 
ning what they cannot secure by integrity? Is it because 
they resent the circumstances of their birth and fling then- 
defiance into the teeth of life by making everything foul and 
unclean within the reach of their contact and power? 

There is no simple or single answer. In every ghetto, in 
every dwelling place of the disinherited throughout the 
ages, these persons have appeared. To love them means to 
recognize some deep respect and reverence for their persons. 

94 



LOVE 


But to love them does not mean to condone their way of 
life. 

Jesus demonstrated that the only way to redeem them for 
the common cause was to penetrate their thick resistance 
to public opinion and esteem and lay bare the simple heart. 
This man is not just a tax collector; he is a son of God. 
Awaken that awareness in him and he will attack his be- 
trayal as only he can— from the inside. It was out of this 
struggle and triumph that Jesus says: “Love your enemies, 
do good to them which hate you.” Hence he called Mat- 
thew, the tax collector, to follow him. 

The third type of enemy was exemplified by Rome. The 
elements at work here were both personal and impersonal; 
they were religious and political. To deal with Rome as a 
moral enemy required a spiritual recognition of the rela- 
tionship with the empire. This was made even more pre- 
carious because of the development of the cult of emperor 
worship. But Rome was the political enemy. To love the 
Roman meant first to lift him out of the general classification 
of enemy. The Roman had to emerge as a person. 

On the surface this would not be too difficult. The basic 
requirement was that the particular Roman be established 
in some primary, face-to-face relationship of gross equality. 
There had to be a moment when the Roman and the Jew 
emerged as neither Roman nor Jew, but as two human 
spirits that had found a mutual, though individual, valida- 
tion. For the most part, such an experience would be im- 
possible as long as either was functioning only within his 
own social context. The Roman, viewed against the back- 

95 



JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

ground of his nation and its power, was endowed in the 
mind of the Jew with all the arrogance and power of the 
lioniinant group. It would matter not how much the in- 
di\-idual wished to be regarded for himself alone or to be 
permitted to disassociate himself from all the entangling 
emi)arrassments of his birthright; the fact remained always 
present. He was a Roman and had to bear on his shoulders 
the full weight of that responsibility. If he tried to make 
common cause with the Jew, he was constantly under sus- 
picion, and was never to be trusted and taken all the way 
into the confidence of the other. 

Of course, the Jew'ish person w'as under the same handi- 
cap. It was almost impossible for him to emerge as a person; 
always in the background was the fact of difference and the 
disadvantage of status. If he wanted to know the Roman for 
himself, he ran the risk of being accused by his fellows of 
consorting wdth the enemy. If he persisted, it would be 
simply a matter of time before he would be regarded as an 
enemy and forced to take the consequences. The more he 
e.xplained his motives, the deep ethical and spiritual urgency 
which forced the irregular behavior, the more hypocritical 
he would seem. 

Once isolation from one’s fellows has been achieved, one 
is at the mercy of doubts, fears, and confusion. One might 
say, “Suppose I have misread the will of God. Suppose I 
am really acting in this way because I do not have the 
courage to hate. Suppose those I am learning to love turn 
and rend me with added contempt and condescension. Then 
w'hat? Does it mean that God has failed me.? Does it mean 


96 



LOVE 


that there is, at long last, no ultimate integrity in the ethical 
enterprise? Does it mean that the love ideal is so absolute 
that it vitiates something as frail and limited as human life— 
that thus it is an evil and not a good? ‘My God, my God, 
why hast thou forsaken me?’ ” 

Love of the enemy means that a fundamental attack 
must first be made on the enemy status. How can this be 
done? Does it mean merely ignoring the fact that he belongs 
to the enemy class? Hardly. For lack of a better term, an 
“unscrambling” process is required. Obviously a situation 
has to be set up in which it is possible for primary contacts 
to be multiplied. By this I do not mean contacts that are 
determined by status or by social distinctions. There are 
always primary contacts between the weak and the strong, 
the privileged and the underprivileged, but they are gen- 
erally contacts within zones of agreement which leave the 
status of the individual intact. There is great intimacy be- 
tween whites and Negroes, but it is usually between servant 
and served, between employer and employee. Once the 
status of each is frozen or fixed, contacts are merely truces 
between enemies— a kind of armistice for purposes of eco- 
nomic security. True, there are times when something great 
and dependable emerges, and the miracle takes place even 
though the status has remained, formally. But during such 
moments status is merely transcended; it is not broken 
down. If it is transcended over a time interval of sufficient 
duration, a permanent emergence takes place. But, in a very 
tragic sense, the ultimate fate of the relationship seems to 
be in the hands of the wider social context. 


97 



JESUS ANO THE DISINHERITED 

It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the 
underprivileged to work on the common environment for 
the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship. 
This is one very important reason for the insistence that 
segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil. Whatever 
it may do for those who dwell on either side of the wall, 
one thing is certain: it poisons all normal contacts of those 
persons involved. The first step toward love is a common 
sharing of a sense of mutual worth and value. This cannot 
be discovered in a vacuum or in a series of artificial or 
hypothetical relationships. It has to be in a real situation, 
natural, free. 

The experience of the common worship of God is such 
a moment. It is in this connection that American Christian- 
ity has betrayed the religion of Jesus almost beyond re- 
demption. Churches have been established for the under- 
privileged, for the weak, for the poor, on the theory that 
they prefer to be among themselves. Churches have been 
established for the Chinese, the Japanese, the Korean, the 
Mexican, the Filipino, the Italian, and the Negro, with the 
same theor}^ in mind. The result is that in the one place in 
which normal, free contacts might be most naturally estab- 
lished~in which the relations of the individual to his God 
should take priority over conditions of class, race, power, 
status, wealth, or the like— this place is one of the chief in- 
struments for guaranteeing barriers. 

It is in order to quote these paragraphs from a recently 
published book, The frotestant Church and the Negro, 
by Frank S. Loescher: 


98 



LOVE 


There are approximately 8,000,000 Protestant Negroes, 
About 7,500,000 are in separate Negro denominations. There- 
fore, from the local church through the regional organizations 
to the national assemblies over 93 per cent of the Negroes are 
without association in work and worship with Christians of 
other races except in interdenominadonal organizations \t'’hich 
involves a few of their leaders. The remaining 500,000 Negro 
Protestants— about 6 per cent— are in predominantly white de- 
nominations, and of these 500,000 Negroes in' “white”; 
churches, at least 99 per cent, judging by the sun'eys of . sk 
denominations, are in segregated congregations. They are in 
association with their white denominational brothers only in 
national assemblies, and, in some denominations, in regional, 
state, or more local jursdictional meetings. There remains a 
handful of Negro members in local “white” churches. How 
many? Call it one-tenth of one per cent of all the Negro Prot- 
estant Christians in the United States— 8,000 souls— the figure 
is probably much too large. Whatever the figure actually is, 
the number of white and Negro persons who ever gather to- 
gether for worship under the auspices of Protestant Christian- 
ity is almost microscopic. And where interracial worship does 
occur, it is, for the most part, in communities where there are 
only a few Negro families and where, therefore, only a few" 
Negro individuals are available to “white” churches. 

That is the over-all picture, a picture which hardly reveals 
the Protestant church as a dynamic agency in the integration 
of American Negroes into American life, Negro membership 
appears to be confined to less than one per cent of the local 
“white” churches, usually churches in small communities where 
but a few^ Negroes live and have already experienced a high 
degree of integration by other community institutions— com- 
munities one might add where it is unsound to establish a Negro 
church since Negroes are in such small numbers. It is an even 

99 



are 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

smaller percentage of white churches in which Negroes 
reported to be participating freely, or are integrated. 

The same pattern appears to be true for other colored 
minorities, that is, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Mexicans, Puerto 
Ricans. Regarding the Me.xicans and Puerto Ricans, for ex- 
ample, a director of home missions work in a great denomina- 
tion says his experience leads him to believe that “generally 
there is little, if any, discrimination here though in a community 
which has a large Mexican population it is quite true tliat they 
have their owm churches.” ^ 

The enormity of this sin cannot be easily grasped. The 
situation is so tragic that men of good will in all the specious 
classifications within our society find more cause for hope 
in the secular relations of life than in religion. 

The religion of Jesus says to the disinherited: “Love your 
enemy. Take the initiative in seeldng ways by which you 
can have the experience of a common sharing of mutual 
worth and value. It may be hazardous, but you must do it.” 
For the Negro it means that he must see the individual 
wdiite man in the conte.xt of a common humanity. The fact 
that a particular individual is white, and therefore may be 
regarded in some over-all sense as the racial enemy, must be 
faced; and opportunity must be provided, found, or created 
for freeing such an individual from his “white necessity.” 
From this point on, the relationship becomes like any other 
primary one. 

Once an attack is made on the enemy status and the in- 
dividual has emerged, the underprivileged man must him- 

*Pp. 76-7S. 

100 



LOVE 


self be status free. It may be argued that his sense of free- 
dom must come first. Here I think the answer may be 
determined by the one who initiates the activity. But in 
either case love is possible only between two freed spirits. 
What one discovers in even a single experience in which 
barriers have been removed may become useful in building 
an over-all technique for loving one’s enemy. There cannot 
be too great insistence on the point that we are here dealing 
with a discipline, a method, a technique, as over against 
some form of wishful thinking or simple desiring. 

Once the mutual discovery is made that the privileged is 
a man and the underprivileged is a man, or that the Negro 
is a man and the white man is a man, then the nonnai desire 
to make this discovery inclusive of all brings one to grips 
with the necessity for working out a technique of imple- 
mentation. The underprivileged man cannot get to know 
many people as he knows one individual, and yet he is in 
constant contact with many, in ways that deepen the con- 
flict. Is there some skill which may be applied at a moment’s 
notice that will make a difference even in the most casual 
relationships.^ Such a technique may be found in the atti- 
tude of respect for personality. 

Preliminary to any discussion of the significance of this 
attitude, some urgent word of caution must be given. For 
the most part the relationship between the weak and the 
strong is basically amoral, or it is characterized by a facile 
use of the mood of “the exception.” It is easy to say about a 
particular individual, “He is different,” or, “He is excep- 

101 



JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

tional” and to impiy that the general rule or the general 
attitude does not apply. 

Tliis mood of exception operates in still another way. A 
whole group may be regarded as an exception, and thus 
one is relieved of any necessity to regard them as human 
beings. A Negro may say: “If a man is white, he may be 
automatically classified as one incapable of dealing with 
me as if he were a rational human being.” Or it may be just 
the reverse. Such a mood, the mood of exception, operates 
in all sorts of ways. A Republican may say the same thing 
about a Socialist. The deadly consequences of this attitude 
are evident. On the same principle scapegoats are provided, 
upon whose helpless heads we pour our failures and our 
fears. 

The attitude of respect for personality presupposes that 
all the individuals involved are within what may be called 
the ethical field. The privileged man must be regarded as 
being within the area in which ethical considerations are 
mandator}^ If either privileged or tinderprivileged is out of 
bounds, the point has no validity. 

It is important now to ask how Jesus used this attitude. 
How did he spell it out? One day a Roman captain came 
to him seeldng help for his servant, for whom he had a 
profound attachment— a Roman citizen seeking help from 
a Jewish teacher! Deep was his anguish and distress; all 
other sources of help had failed. That which would have 
been expected in the attitude of the Roman growing out 
of the disjointed relationship between them and the Jews 

102 



LOVE 


was conspicuously lacking here. The fact that he had come 
to Jesus was in itself evidence to warrant the conclusion that 
he had put aside the pride of race and status which would 
have caused him to regard himself as superior to Jesus. 
He placed his need directly and simply before Jesus, say- 
ing, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, 
grievously tormented.” By implication he says, “It is my 
faith that speaks, that cries out. I am stripped bare of all 
pretense and false pride. The man in me appeals to the 
man in you.” So great was his faith and his humility that 
when Jesus said that he would come to his home, the cap- 
tain replied, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come 
under my roof; but speak the word only, and my servant 
shall be healed.” 

It was the testimony of Jesus that he had found no such 
faith in all Israel. The Roman was confronted with an 
insistence that made it impossible for him to remain a Ro- 
man, or even a captain. He had to take his place alongside 
all the rest of humanity and mingle his desires with the 
longing of ail the desperate people of all the ages. When 
this happened, it was possible at once for him to scale with 
Jesus any height of understanding, fellowship, and love. The 
final barrier between the strong and the weak, between ruler 
and ruled, disappeared. 

In the casual relationships between the privileged and the 
underprivileged there may not be many occurrences of so 
dramatic a character. Naturally. The average under- 
privileged man is not a Jesus of Nazareth. The fact re- 

103 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

mains, however, that where%'er a need is kid bare, those 
who stand in the presence of it can be confronted with the 
experience of universality that makes all class and race 
distinctions impertinent. During the great Vanport, Oregon, 
disaster, when rising waters left thousands homeless, many 
people of Portland who, prior to that time were sure of 
their “white supremacy,” opened their homes to Negroes, 
Mexicans, and Japanese. The result was that they were all 
confronted with the experience of universality. They were 
no longer white, black, and brown. They were men, 
women, and children in the presence of the operation of 
impersonal Nature. Under the pressure they were the human 
family, and each stood in immediate candidacy for the 
profoundest fellowship, understanding, and love. 

In many experiences of the last war this primary dis- 
covery was made. Since an army is a part of the pretensions 
of the modem state, the state’s using it to perpetuate the 
system of segregation is mere stupidity. The multiplication 
of moments when citizens— in this instance soldiers— may be 
confronted with an experience of universality is simply 
staggering. Aside from all consideration of the issues of war 
and peace, here is a public activity of the state in which the 
raw material of democracy can be fashioned into an ex- 
perience of that personality confirmation without which 
there can be no lasting health in the state. It is not merely 
coincidental that this same experience is that out of which 
the ethical premise of love can find fulfillment. 

Tlie concept of reverence for personality, then, is ap- 
plicable between persons from whom, in the initial instance, 

104 



LOVE 


the heavy weight of status has been sloughed off. Then 
what.^ Each person meets the other where he is and there 
treats him as if he were where he ought to be. Here we 
emerge into an area where love operates, revealing a uni- 
versal characteristic unbounded by special or limited cir- 
cumstances. 

How did Jesus define it? One day a woman was brought 
to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery. The 
spokesman for the group who brought her said she was 
caught red-handed and that according to the law she should 
be stoned to death. “What is your judgment?” was their 
searching question. To them the woman was not a woman, 
or even a person, but an adulteress, stripped of her essential 
dignity and worth. Said Jesus: “He that is without sin 
among you, let him first cast a stone.” After that, he im- 
plied, any person may throw. The quiet words exploded 
the situation, and in the piercing glare each man saw himself 
in his literal substance. In that moment each was not a judge 
of another’s deeds, but of his owm. In the same glare the 
adulteress saw herself merely as a woman involved in the 
meshes of a struggle with her own elemental passion. 

Jesus, always the gentleman, did not look at the woman 
as she stood before him. Instead, he looked on the ground, 
busied himself with his thoughts. What a moment, reaching 
beyond time into eternity! 

Jesus waited. One by one the men crept away. The 
woman alone was left. Hearing no outcry, Jesus raised his 
eyes and beheld the woman. “Where are those thine ac- 
cusers? hath no man condemned thee?” 

105 


JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

“No man, Lord.” 

“Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” 

This is how Jesus demonstrated reverence for personality. 
He met the woman where she was, and he treated her as if 
she were already where she now willed to be. In dealing 
with her he “believed” her into the fulfillment of her pos- 
sibilities. He stirred her confidence into activity. He placed 
a crown over her head which for the rest of her life she 
would keep trying to grow tall enough to wear. 

Free at last, free at last. 

Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last. 

The crucial question is, Can this attitude, developed in 
the white heat of personal encounter, become characteristic 
of one’s behavior even when the drama of immediacy is 
lacking? I think so. It has to be rooted in concrete experi- 
ence. No amount of good feeling for people in general, no 
amount of simple desiring, is an adequate substitute. It is the 
act of inner authority, well within the reach of everyone. 
Obviously, then, merely preaching love of one’s enemies 
or exhortations— however high and holy— cannot, in the 
last analysis, accomplish this result. At the center of the 
attitude is a core of painstaking discipline, made possible 
only by personal triumph. The ethical demand upon the 
more privileged and the underprivileged is the same. 

There is another aspect of the problem which is crucial 
for the disinherited who is seeking in his love to overcome 
his hatred. The disinherited man has a sense of gross in- 

106 



LOVE 


jury. He finds it well-nigh impossible to forgive, because his 
injury is often gratuitous. It is not for something that he 
has done, an action resulting from a deliberate violation of 
another. He is penalized for what he is in the eyes and the 
standards of another. Somehow he must free himself of the 
will to retaliation that keeps alive his hatred. Years ago I 
heard an American missionary to Arabia make a speech 
concerning the attitude of the people in that land toward 
the British. He said that he and an Arab friend were taking 
a boat ride down a certain river when a British yacht passed. 
With quiet fury the Arab friend said, “Damn the English.” 

“Why do you say that.^ They have done good service to 
your country in terms of health and so forth. I don’t under- 
stand.” 

“I said, ‘Damn the English,’ because they think they are 
better than I am.” Here was stark bitterness fed by the 
steady oozing of the will to resentment. 

It is clear that before love can operate, there is the neces- 
sity for forgiveness of injury perpetuated against a person 
by a group. This is the issue for the disinherited. Once 
again the answer is not simple. Perhaps there is no answer 
that is completely satisfying from the point of view of 
rational reflection. Can the mouse forgive the cat for eating 
him? It does seem that Jesus dealt with every act of for- 
giveness as one who was convinced that there is in every 
act of injury an element that is irresponsible and irrational. 
No evil deed— and no good deed, either— was named by him 
as an expression of the total mind of the doer. Once, when 
someone addressed him as “Good Master,” Jesus is quoted 

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JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

as having said, “Why callest thou me good? there is none 
good, but . . . God.” 

In Jesus’ insistence that we should forgive seventy times 
seven, there seems to be the assumption that forgiveness is 
mandatory for three reasons. First, God forgives us again 
and again for what we do intentionally and unintentionally. 
There is present an element that is contingent upon our 
attitude. Forgiveness beyond this is interpreted as the work 
of divine grace. Second, no evil deed represents the full 
intent of the doer. Third, the evildoer does not go un- 
punished. Life is its own restraint. In the wide sweep of the 
ebb and flow of moral law our deeds track us down, and 
doer and deed meet. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith 
the Lord.” At the moment of injury or in the slow burning 
fires of resentment this may be poor comfort. This is the 
ultimate ground in which finally a profound, unrelieved in- 
jury is absorbed. When all other means have been ex- 
hausted, each in his own tongue whispers, “There is for- 
giveness with God.” 

WTat, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those 
who stand with their backs against the wall? There must be 
the clearest possible understanding of the anatomy of the 
issues facing them. They must recognize fear, deception, 
hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they 
must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves 
immune to their domination. In so great an undertaking it 
will become increasingly clear that the contradictions of life 
are not ultimate. The disinherited will know for themselves 
that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men 

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LOVE 

which is committed to overcoming the world. It is uni- 
veisal, knowing no age, no race, no culture, and no condi- 
tion of men. For the privileged and underprivileged alike, 
if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful 
dedication and discipline, he can live effectively in the chaos 
of the present the high destiny of a son of God. 



Epilogue 

For every man there is a necessity to establish as se- 
curely as possible the lines along which he proposes to 
live his life. In developing his life’s working paper he must 
take into account many factors, in his reaction to which 
he may seem to throw them out of line with their true 
significance. As a man he did not happen. He was bom; 
he has a name; he has forebears; he is the product of a 
particular culture; he has a mother tongue; he belongs to 
a nation; he is bora into some kind of faith. In addition 
to all of these he exists in some curious way as a person 
independent of all other facts. There is an intensely private 
world, all his ovto; it is intimate, exclusive, sealed. 

The life worldng paper of the individual is made up of a 
creative synthesis of what the man is in all his parts and 
how he reacts to the living process. It is wide of the mark 
to say that a man’s working paper is ever wrong; it may 
not be fruitful, it may be negative, but it is never wrong. 
For such a judgment would imply that the synthesis is 

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EPILOGUE 


guaranteed to be of a certain kind, of a specific character, 
resulting in a foreordained end. 

It can never be determined just what a man will fashion. 
Two men may be born of the same parents, grow up in the 
same environment, be steeped in the same culture and in- 
spired by the same faith. Close or even cursory obsen'ation 
may reveal that each has fashioned a life working paper so 
unique that they take to different roads, each day bringing 
them farther and farther apart. Or it may be that they 
move along precisely parallel lines that never meet. 

Always, then, there is the miracle of the working paper. 
Wherever there appears in human history a personality 
whose story is available and whose reach extends far, in all 
directions, the question of his working paper is as crucial as 
is the significance of his life. We want to know what were 
the lines along which he decided to live his life. How did 
he relate himself to the central issues of his time.^ What 
were the questions which he had to answer? Was he under 
some necessity to give a universal character to his most 
private experience? 

Our attention is called to such a figure because of the 
impact which his life makes upon human histor)^. For what 
is human history but man’s working paper as he rides high 
to life caught often in the swirling eddies of tremendous 
impersonal forces set in motion by vast impulses out of the 
womb of the Eternal. When a solitary individual is able to 
mingle his strength with the forces of history and emerge 
with a name, a character, a personality, it is no ordinary 
achievement. It is more than the fact that there is a record 


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JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED 

of his life— as singular as that fact may be. It means that 
against the background of anonymity he has emerged 
articulate, and particular. 

Such a figure was Jesus of Nazareth. To some he is the 
grand prototype of all the distilled longing of mankind 
for fulfillment, for wholeness, for perfection. To some he 
is the Eternal Presence hovering over all the myriad needs 
of humanity, yielding healing for the sick of body and soul, 
giving a lift to those whom weariness has overtaken in the 
long march, and calling out hidden purposes of destiny 
which are the common heritage. To some he is more than a 
Presence; he is the God fact, the Divine Moment in human 
sin and human misery. To still others he is a man who found 
the answer to life’s riddle, and out of a profound gratitude 
he becomes the Man most worthy of honor and praise. 
For such his answer becomes humanity’s answer and his 
life the common claim. In him the miracle of the working 
paper is writ large, for what he did all men may do. Thus 
interpreted, he belongs to no age, no race, no creed. When 
men look into his face, they see etched the glory of their 
own possibilities, and their hearts whisper, “Thank you and 
thank God!” 


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